THE board of directors at a closure-threatened schools theatre company will be forced lay off more than 30 workers, unless an appeal is successful.

Artistic director of Gwent Theatre, Gary Meredith said if funding is not found notices will be issued by the end of September and the theatre faces closure in December.

It follows the Arts Council of Wales’ decision to withdraw annual funding of £250,000.

The Abergavenny-based organisation works with 20,000 youngsters a year and its Youth Service puts on six productions and more than 300 in schools using around 30 freelance professionals including actors, writers and designers.

Six full-time staff will be issued redundancy notices next month.

"We have appealed to the Arts Council but are waiting for a response," said Mr Meredith.

"If it has to close the board will issue redundancy notices to comply with legal requirements and close in December," he added.

Newport-born actor and Hollywood star Michael Sheen, OBE has pledged his support after hearing about the funding cuts.

Mr Sheen voiced his support in an email to Mr Meredith saying he was saddened by the news, adding that it is a brutal time for the arts across Wales and the UK with the axing of the Film Council.

"It is going to be a real uphill battle, I fear," he said.

Mr Sheen also asked what he could do to help the campaign.

His plea to secure the theatre’s future follows an open letter from his cousin Caroline Sheen, an actress and former member, last week.

Mr Sheen, spent the first five years of his life in Newport and has featured in several blockbusters including The Queen, Frost/Nixon, Blood Diamond and The Damned United, portraying former Prime Minister Tony Blair, broadcaster David Frost and football manager Brian Clough.

Nick Capaldi, chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales said: "The Arts Council remains committed through its Making the Change programme to continuing dialogue with organisations who's revenue funding ends in March 2011."