The TMA was founded in 1894 when, at a meeting on 24th January of that year at the Tavistock Hotel, Covent Garden, it was agreed to establish a new organisation for managers of theatres in London and the provinces. The Theatrical Managers Association, as it was then named, incorporated the Provincial Theatrical Managers Association and by 16th June, 1894 had 29 members.
The Associations first President was Henry Irving and its committee included Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Richard D’Oyly Carte, amongst those representing the London Managers, and Michael Gunn of the Gaiety Dublin and T.H. Charles of the Princes Manchester amongst the Country Managers.
The Association was established to represent the business interests of the members; offering an organised and protective body for theatrical managers throughout the country. The theatre business at that time was a wholly commercial one. The theatrical managers were sensitive to any occurrence which, in their view, impacted upon or constrained their trade, be it government taxation on alcohol and tobacco, licensing, the rival attractions of music hall and variety, the demand for royalty payments on songs or organised labour.
The early years of the Association saw many occasions when the collective interests of the members were in evidence in the conduct of theatre business. In 1895 the Association had established a sub-committee to investigate ways in which theatre insurance premia might be reduced through collective insurance policies. In 1896 Bram Stoker, General Manager of the Henry Irving Company and author of Dracula agreed to serve on this committee.
In 1896 the TMA and the Actors Association agreed for the first time to meet jointly to arbitrate on a dispute between an actor and a management.
In 1908 delegates from the TMA attended a special meeting at the Lyceum Theatre, London which called for a campaign to establish a National Theatre. That same year the members of the TMA were outraged at the new taxes on alcohol, tobacco and petrol and increased income tax on earnings and investments which, it was forecast, would result in the death of British theatre.
1908 also saw the establishment of the breakaway organisation the Society of West End Theatre Managers, which was formally constituted under the Presidency of Sir Charles Wyndham.
By 1911 the threat posed to the Theatre Managers by the entertainments offered by Music Halls was superseded by the growth in picture palace theatres and the TMA called for restrictions on the large number of cinemas being opened. A survey in 1915 of 8,000 places of entertainment throughout the British Isles revealed 4,000 Picture Palaces, 1,200 Music Halls and 400 Theatres.
The TMA recognised the Amalgamated Musicians Union in 1916 and agreed to negotiate a contract of minimum terms. Similar recognition was given to the Actors Association in 1919.
The Theatre Managers Association became a limited company in 1921; and that year the TMA joined in the call for the right to open theatres on a Sunday.
The 20s saw the Association establishing a Touring Section to represent the growing needs of this sector of the membership (much to the chagrin of the rival Association of Touring Managers). The TMA was represented on the committee to establish the retirement home for actors, Denville Hall.
This decade was notable for the establishment of the number of repertory companies. By 1927 companies were working in Northampton, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Plymouth, Sheffield, Oxford, Hull, Manchester and Cambridge.
The rise in municipal theatres, funded by local authorities with ratepayers money was a concern to the Association, with the majority of members regarding this development as highly unfair opposition to the commercial theatre. Whilst some touring managers welcomed the increase in the number of theatre buildings as they provided greater opportunity for touring dates, the Association continued, until after the Second World War, to be opposed to subsidy for any branch of the entertainment business.
By the 1930s the impact of cinema resulted in the TMA noting a dramatic fall in the number of theatre tickets sold at every town where a talking film was being shown. The Association embarked on negotiations in 1930 to hold back for some definite period the Talking Picture rights of stage plays in order for the manager to benefit from his initial investment. The TMA launched a Get the Theatre Habit Campaign to combat the fall in business.
1933 saw the first meeting of the Joint Committee of representatives from British Actors Equity, the successor the Actors Association, and the TMA to discuss matters of mutual interest and to consider the drafting of a model contract.
The outbreak of the war in 1939 saw the Government order the immediate closure of all theatres, cinemas, dance halls and place of public entertainment, with a loss of employment for thousands of theatre people. By September a gradual re-opening commenced, but the ensuing years saw wide destruction of theatre buildings in London and towns and cities throughout the country. The first venue to suffer war damage was the Clacton Pier Theatre which was struck by a mine. One of the last was the Ilford Hippodrome destroyed by a V2 bomb in January 1945.
In 1944 the Council of Repertory Theatres was formed to represent the interests of the repertory theatres. The introduction of the new Paye As You Earn tax in that year caused some consternation and the TMA Secretary was requested to communicate with the Inspector of Taxes to endeavour to obtain clarification of the position with regard to artists assessed under Schedule D. The 50th anniversary of the Association was due to be celebrated in September 1944 with a luncheon at the Savoy, but this was delayed until 1945 for fear of the Doodlebug attacks.
The late 40s were a bleak time for theatres around the country. Rationing of clothes persisted until 1949, whilst petrol continued to be rationed until 1950. The atrocious winter of 1947 caused many theatres to cancel performances, whilst some audiences were forced to spend the night in theatres having been snowed in during the course of a show. It is not recorded whether any of these shows were the nude or strip-tease shows which had proliferated in the West End and major provincial cities at the end of the war. This trend alarmed the TMA, not least as several of its own member theatres appeared to be involved in presenting shows of a dubious nature. In 1946 the TMA had promised to work closely with the Lord Chamberlain to ensure that all theatre managers were aware of the law in relation to obscenity of stage. All members were urged to make sure that nothing was permitted to be staged in their theatres which could bring the good name of the TMA into disrepute.
In 1949 the TMA Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the implications for the profession of the devaluation of the pound, particularly the additional and unforeseen cost of honouring contracts with American and European performers.
The 1950s saw an upturn in business. Members of the TMA throughout the country had been involved in the presentation of special productions to mark the Festival of Britain in 1951. New theatres opened in Derby, Pitlochry and Leatherhead, the English Stage Company was formed at the Royal Court, whilst the Theatre Workshop took up residency at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. In 1958 the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry became the first new theatre to be built since the War and the Mermaid Theatre opened at Puddle Dock, London in 1959. In 1953 the Government had announced the end of sweet rationing and theatres were able to profit once again from the sales of chocolates, confectionary and ice-cream.
The TMAs forty year campaign to abolish the Entertainments Tax finally succeeded in 1957. The tax, first introduced as a First World War Emergency measure, was considered unfair and unworkable. Relief from the tax was granted in 1918 on complimentary tickets and in 1935 Lilian Baylis persuaded the Government to agree to tax relief for non-profit making productions of educational plays.
The development of new theatres and companies continued into the 1960s though the number of new buildings in Nottingham, Leicester, Southampton , Liverpool, Chichester and the first theatre in the round at Stoke on Trent amongst others did not compensate for the closure of over a hundred theatres in the previous decade. The largest loss of theatres was on the touring circuit with many Moss-Empire theatres closing down. In 1961 the TMA proposed a meeting with the Association of Touring Producing Managers to discuss the threat to touring theatre as theatre buildings were increasingly being used for the newly popular game of chance called Bingo.
In 1962 the Government announced that substantial grants would be made available to the Arts Council for provincial theatres and for the first time some of these funds would be extended to cover losses made by commercial repertory theatres.
The rise in popularity of television was a new threat to the theatre industry. The introduction of the BBC in 1953 and commercial television in 1955 was followed in 1964 by the transmission of BBC2. TMA members expressed concern that this latest TV service, which offered cultural and artistic programmes, could adversely affect theatre business.
1968 saw the Association renamed as the Theatrical Management Association. This change was made to reflect the growth in Local Authority membership and the fact that fewer and fewer theatres were controlled by an individual manager.
On 26th September of that year Theatre censorship was finally abolished. It was no longer necessary to seek the approval of the Lord Chamberlain for any work performed on the English stage; theatres were answerable only to the common laws of libel and blasphemy. A request in the following year from Equity asking TMA members to undertake to pay any fines imposed on artists if they were convicted of an offence by reason of appearing nude or taking in simulated sex acts on stage was declined by the Association.
In 1971 the TMA and Equity did reach agreement on the casting of shows with each manager allowed only to employ up to a maximum of two non-Equity members in year in an attempt to restrict the number of newcomers into an already overcrowded and underemployed profession. These restrictions did not apply to chorus in non-subsidised pantomimes or summer shows, nor to stage management employees who were not required to appear onstage. Equity agreed that the standard Esher Contract, first introduced in 1933, for actors and stage managers would not contain a strike clause.
The announcement of the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) in 1973 was greeted with horror by the TMA and various ways of achieving zero rating on theatre tickets were considered, to no avail. It is perhaps no surprise that the TMA was seriously concerned that the increase in ticket prices could harm business.
In 1975 the TMA circulated its members with details of new legislation: the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act. In that year the Associations General Meeting discussed the general economic crisis affecting the theatre industry. Inflation in that year was 25%, whilst the number of people unemployed was the highest since 1940.
In 1978 the TMA merged with the Council of Regional Theatre and the ATPM to become TMA/CORT/ATPM to be followed shortly by agreement to use TMA for quick reference purposes. The membership of the new Association now stood at over 400.
The 1980s began with the private prosecution of the National Theatres production of The Romans in Britain. In 1981 the TMAs Liability Fund was exhausted with the collapse of five managements in just seven months. It was decided to abandon the fund as the need was in many ways obviated by the 1978 Employment Protection Act. That year the Arts Council of Great Britain withdrew funding from three companies, action greeted with dismay by the TMA which was concerned by the peremptory and high-handed action of the Council.
The publication in 1983 of the Arts Councils survey The Glory of the Garden occurred in the same year as a proposed 1% cut in grant to theatres. By 1985 the TMA had joined with SWET, Equity and the Association of British Orchestras to launch the National Campaign for the Arts.
In 1987 Bob Lacy Thompson retired as the Joint Secretary of TMA and SWET. His successor was Rupert Rhymes and the post was given a new title of Chief Executive. In that year the TMA abandoned the system of a small membership fee plus a levy on each performance as the basis for calculating the cost of membership, introduced in 1982, and implemented a new system based on turnover.
The TMA appointed its first Industrial Officer, Peter Morris, in 1989. The post was created to guide managers through the complexities of union agreements and government legislation concerning employment conditions.
1990 saw the introduction of the comprehensive survey of theatre attendance undertaken by the TMA in association with the City University. All TMA members were asked to supply full details of their attendances and box office receipts on a monthly basis. This service continues to this day.
In 1991 the TMA launched a new Awards Scheme exclusively for regional theatres. Designed to achieve public recognition for the consistent excellence of theatres throughout the UK outside of the West End, the Awards were sponsored by Martini and named the Martini/TMA Regional Theatre Awards.
The TMA Theatre Awards are still a much sought after accolade. The awards were joined in 2005 by the TMA Management Awards.
In 1994 the TMA celebrated its 100th anniversary. Over the succeeding years the Association has continued to provide services and support to its members to enable them to conduct their businesses efficiently and effectively. The past 10 years have been particularly notable for constant, fast social and economic change and technical innovation. The specialist financial, industrial and legal services offered by the Association are in high demand as the theatre business meets the challenges of the 21st century with the same brio and skill of previous generations of theatre managers.