In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Sara Martí Guðmundsdóttir, Director of the Tjarnarbíó theatre in downtown Reykjavík, stated that despite a record-breaking year of sales, current grants would not suffice for the continued operation of the theatre. Without increased support from the City of Reykjavík or the state, Tjarnarbíó would have to close for good this September.
Theatre to close September 1
Over the past year, organisers, staff, and actors of Tjarnarbíó have tried to draw attention to the poor state of the theatre, Vísir notes. The building has long been too small and run-down; the equipment outdated; and, despite vigorous operations, the theatre has not received sufficient funds to continue to operate.
Yesterday morning, Sara Martí Guðmundsdóttir, Director of Tjarnarbíó, sent an email to all parties involved in next year’s performances to inform them that the theatre would close in September.
“It’s just very sad. Considering how little we need; it’s ridiculous that we have to close. We’re shutting up shop. Simple as that,” Sara Martí told Vísir. “Tjarnarbío will have to close in September if no help is received. After September 1, I can’t afford to pay our staff a salary, and then a whole acting year goes to waste,” she added.
Shutting up shop despite record sales
Sara told Vísir that demand for venues in the performing arts scene had long since outpaced supply, adding that almost no other theatre aside from Tjarnarbíó had attended to the needs of independent troupes. Furthermore, expenses had gone up while the operating subsidy that the theatre receives had remained the same.
“Salaries have increased. The cost of supplies has increased. Everything has gone up. Although we’ve just had a record year – with a record number of viewers – this is the reality that we’re facing.”
“Our scene has long since become too big,” Sara Martí continued. “There are a lot of performing artists who need space. We’re not only referring to theatre troupes but also dance troupes, stand-up comics, and sketch shows. There are a plethora of people who need a stage, and we’re the only theatre attending to their demands. So if the state and the city want a performing arts scene, they need to do something.”
Sara revealed that Tjarnarbíó had been in contact with the City of Reykjavík. “And the last thing we heard was: ‘We can’t help; we can’t come up with the measly ISK 7 million ($51,000 / €47,000) to help you for the rest of the year. Let alone everything else you need to run the business properly.’ And we haven’t heard a thing from the government, even though we’ve sent a memo to them recently.”
“Years of neglect”
As noted by Vísir, Tjarnarbíó has served as one of the few refuges for independent theatre troupes in Iceland; only a small number of grantees from the Performing Arts Fund are accommodated by the big theatres, so Tjarnarbíó has been their home turf.
When asked how the theatre had managed to operate thus far, Sara Martí responded that Tjarnarbíó had managed with the operating grant received from the City of Reykjavík, which amounted to ca. ISK 22 million ($160,000 / €148,000).
“But it’s not enough to remunerate the theatre’s four full-time employees. Because the building is so old, we keep having to spend money on things for which we shouldn’t be paying. The building and the scene itself have been neglected for an awfully long time, which is why we’ve reached this point now. Either someone does something or we have to shut up shop. Because we’ve certainly done everything in our power,” Sara Martí remarked.
She continued by saying that the theatre had accommodated an unprecedented number of troupes during the winter season. With activities from 9 am to 4 pm and evening performances, the theatre operated at full capacity. “I’ve not had a night off throughout the year,” Sara observed.
Numerous troupes left “homeless”
Sara concluded by saying that the closure of the Tjarnarbíó theatre would not only mean the loss of the venue but would also leave numerous troupes “homeless.” Furthermore, the closure would result in the wastage of tens of millions of króna that had already been invested in the performing arts economy.
According to Sara, this would have significant implications, affecting the livelihoods of around 300 performing artists and hundreds of others involved in the industry. She entreated the Minister of Culture, the Mayor of Reykjavík, and the head of the Department of Culture to intervene.