Guest post – Mike Shepherd’s witterings

It’s been an eventful summer and we’ve been lucky !

My show Calvino Nights played the Minack Theatre without a hint of drizzle or Cornish fog.

It’s a straightforward relationship with the marvellous Zoe Curnow who runs the Minack. They pay to get the show “on,” we get it on, if we’re lucky with the weather, then we play to a full audience of all denominations, we generate income and share the profit…. simple ! I then use this revenue to generate more ideas for performance. There are no lengthy Arts Council Grantium forms to fill in, data collection or proof that giving people a good night out is worthwhile.

In the 90’s and the 00’s the cultural industries were hot, theatre was buzzing and Kneehigh was right in the thick of it. 

Venues, producers and ACE helped us fly and were seemingly hungry for artists to create. Now artists have to convince “those in charge” that art is valid and, without proof, we are dismissed. 

Indeed, the world has changed, it’s harder to know what’s real and it feels like the sense we need to find our bearings is being destroyed.

I took over a tumbledown set of barns on the Cornish cliffs in 1990, they became the Kneehigh Barns which I have run as a home for artists ever since. I have always taken creativity and the conditions of creativity seriously (but not too seriously) and it’s here, at these barns, where I find my bearings.

Recently I’ve hosted a variety of people – companies, students, young people, artists and, bizarrely, software specialists… for them the Barns was an alien environment which seemed to stir them, as they searched for things long forgotten.

With these different groups there has often been an anxiety which has been hard to combat. I have no easy answers to how to dispel all our increased anxieties although I find attaching a piece of agricultural fleece to a stick and telling people to play with the wind helps. 

At the Barns I want to tickle and jolt people into a more wild and self-willed state that doesn’t really have much to do with getting things right. At Kneehigh we took things seriously but not too seriously, we delved into all sorts, we agreed to tussle, we found our fools and on occasion, we used sharp intelligences but we didn’t obsess about getting things right and didn’t bother about what we referred to as  “wasted work” as we explored the improbable.

Creating the Barns and that community of artists coincided with finding out about the brilliant educationalist Ken Robinson (please check him out if you haven’t already)

Here’s a quote from him: “We need to educate our children for unpredictability. If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original. We stigmatise mistakes in school, mistakes are the worst thing you can make. We are educating our kids out of their creative capacities.”

Sat in a cafe this morning I couldn’t but help overhear a parent and child talking about results and how they weren’t good enough for her to get into the university she wanted but that was probably just as well as they wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway- the teenager sat despondent and eyes down. This is very sad and things -(almost everything) have got to change. 

“Those in charge” don’t have to invent anything they just have to remember. In a moment of absurd optimism in Calvino Nightsa character declaims “everything that was lost will be found.” 

…. that’d be nice !

Anyway, I want to talk about Ben Stokes who, despite being hopeless at school has become the England cricket captain. The England cricket team had plummeted down the rankings due to a terrible run of results and a debilitating anxiety amongst it’s players. In comes Ben Stokes and simply gets players to play freely, enjoy themselves and not worry about results. Immediately their fortunes change and they become a winning side. 

Traditionalists and those with a preoccupation for “the right and the wrong way of doing things “ tutted aghast when England’s best batsman Joe Root played a completely unconventional ramp shot back over his own head. It could easily have gone wrong but it went for six.

There was a recent interview with England Test Captain Ben Stokes that resonated with me: “I want everybody to be selfless in the decisions they make,” said Stokes. 

“It’s always been my main goal playing for England to think about what I need to do to win this game when I have the responsibility on my shoulders, whatever stage of the game it is. That’s always been my main priority. Personal milestones and individual performances have never been at the top of my priority list. Bottom of my list of priorities is the result, I want to entertain-to give people a good time-to inspire.”

He talked about seeing Freddie Flintoff in 2005 when he was a kid and how that inspired him and how proud he feels that kids this summer, boys and girls, have been so inspired by the sold out, exciting games (when you never know what’s going to happen next) which he has captained this summer.

It strikes me that’s how we want our theatre to be in these times; getting back to a more wild, self-willed state.

Coincidentally, on the same day that I heard the Ben Stokes interview, I went to Leyton Park to watch a young circus company Revel Puck, they had a small big top (can you have a small big top?) that seated 500. The site was welcoming and exciting, the company were amongst the public, there was delicious food, I particularly liked the samosas, and a building sense of expectation. A sold out multigenerational audience took their seats, a lion roared terrifyingly and a young female clown ran into the space terrified.

The roaring continued whist a tiny remote controlled lion entered the ring in pursuit, eventually the remote controlled lion bumped into something which triggered a big chain reaction of objects and scenery cascading down and falling over. The audience went wild. The clown who so clearly knew her fool, in a gentle understated way, had the audience eating from her palm.

For me, when circus is a display of amazing skills, it fairly quickly becomes less interesting, less engaging. Revel Puck absolutely had brilliant skills but they presented them in a way which was totally engaging and elemental. They didn’t always succeed, it wasn’t always easy and as an audience we found ourselves complicit in their successes and failures.

In the interval, outside the tent, there was a buzz of activity as children cartwheeled, spun, balanced and attempted death defying leaps. Ben Stokes would have been proud.

The audience were so up for having a good time and it was a genuine thrill to be amongst them.

Of course, theatre takes many forms but to give a cross-generational audience a bloody good night out with tasty snacks and the opportunity to stick around, meet new people and maybe have a dance feels more important than ever.

It’s what we did with Kneehigh’s Asylum and I’d love to make it happen again. 

Meanwhile, I want the Barns to remain a place of inspiration where ideas can fly towards performance without concerning ourselves with “results”.

We need to keep finding inspirations and we need to inspire the next generations.

Mike Shepherd, August 2023

photo credits: Steve Tanner

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Guest Blog – The Mono Box: “Our industry cannot and will not evolve without investment in new talent.”

The Mono Box has always prided itself on supporting freelancers creatively – providing opportunities that are lacking or less accessible in the industry. For 8 years, we have run workshops and events for actors, directors and writers as well as, more recently, designers and movement directors. Training never stops but we also prioritise the importance of community in an industry that can feel incredibly lonely and inaccessible. 

This became more crucial than ever from March 2020 as we watched our industry fall to its knees. We were forced to re-evaluate our careers and our lives, to step back and notice all the gaping problems we’d let slide for so long. Tweets, articles and blog posts were thrown around about a utopian post-pandemic vision for theatre. Promises were made that have yet to come to fruition…

photo credit Helen Murray  

We have always championed new voices and formalised this through a new writing scheme called PLAYSTART which has run for 3 successive years (2017-2019). After the events of last summer, and in response to the lack of opportunities for emerging talent during Covid-19, we got to work. We invested in 7 ethnically diverse writers from PLAYSTART, offering them what we knew was crucial in building a career: a commission, mentorship and a platform for their work. It is notoriously hard to crack that ceiling without someone paying you to do what you do best, and someone else who is several steps ahead of you career-wise providing a guiding light. Our industry cannot and will not evolve without investment in new talent. 

We were keen to not only keen to put our money where our mouth is in terms of supporting emerging creatives, but also to discover a way to adapt theatre-making to the current global restrictions and advancing marriage of theatre and film. As we were locked in our homes, theatre had to adapt and enter people’s living rooms and kitchens. Amidst the “it’s not the same” grumbles, we also quickly realised that this format was providing access to audience numbers we only dream of. 

And so RESET THE STAGE was born. A collection of 7 filmed monologues responding boldly to where we are as an industry and where we could be, if we committed to platforming – nationally and internationally – more diverse voices, bodies and stories.

In addition to the mentorship from leading playwrights including Duncan Macmillan, Alice Birch, Lucy Prebble and Theresa Ikoko, we provided the writers with actors, a theatre and a film crew to help realise their vision. All in lockdown, when the theatres were empty.

The pieces have been directed by Roberta Zuric (part of The Mono Box’s PLAYSTART 2018) and was mentored by Ned Bennett

CYNTHIA by Vivian Xie Stills ; Starring Isabella Laughland ; Directed by Roberta Zuric ; Director of Photography: Fẹ́mi Awójídé ; First Camera Assist: Stephen Ofori ; Sound Recordist: Luise Guertler ; Stills Photographer: Helen Murray ; Gaffer: TC Thomas ; Producer: Joan Iyiola & Alison Holder ; Co-Producer: Miles Sloman Reset The Stage ; Monobox ; Soho Theatre ; London, UK ; 30th March 2021 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

7 stellar actors jumped on board with all guns blazing and delivered mesmerising and incredibly nuanced performances: Shane Zaza, Ken Nwosu, Thalissa Teixeira, Danny Kirrane, Isabella Laughland, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and our own co-AD Joan Iyiola. We paired them up with one of our partner venues – Arcola, Almeida, Bush, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Soho Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Young Vic – all who passionately committed to the project’s ethos and offered invaluable support.

The films within RESET THE STAGE have been achieved to an exceptionally high standard, by a small but mighty team. We are so excited to share them with the world and to show what can happen when new voices are given a platform to showcase their work.

The films launched on 17th June to outstanding feedback and a brilliant 4* review from WhatsOnStage lauding the project’s beautiful outcome and bold response to our industry’s perilous state. 

Screening repeated 1 to 3 July and tickets are on sale now

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Red Ladder Theatre Company’s Rod Dixon: “Touring companies can entice people back into the theatre to enjoy shows with a strong local relevance.”


Guest blog by Rod Dixon

For fifty-three years, Red Ladder has taken real stories of struggle and transformed them into theatre shows. Our productions typically blend comedy and live music with politics and debate while avoiding polemic and finger wagging. We make plays that invite you to lean in, identify, punch the air, laugh with the stranger next to you, cry in the dark, and want to take action.

Rod Dixon, artistic director Red Ladder

Rod Dixon, artistic director Red Ladder

Homebaked – The Musical is a typical example of this. Our new show, which we are making in partnership with Liverpool’s Royal Court, is based on the true story behind the city’s famous bakery. Seeing their streets being demolished and their neighbours facing evictions from property developers and landlords, a group of local people in Anfield fought back by forming a community land trust that managed to buy the last remaining terrace and the neighbourhood bakery.

Nine years later, the community-run bakery sells high quality bread and pies with names like the Scouse Pie and The Shankly. The profits of this community-run business are being ploughed back into the community in order to refurbish a whole terrace of houses which will then be available for locals to rent at very affordable rates. This is the complete antithesis of the kinds of gentrification of an area which is happening in most major cities.

 The story behind the Homebaked bakery and Community Land Trust is incredibly inspiring; a real show of working-class resilience, pride and the power of people pulling together and refusing to bow down to bullies. It is a perfect material on which to create a new musical: the underdog rising up and using new skills to grow and thrive.

Boff Whalley and Rod Dixon, Homebaked - The Musical

Boff Whalley and Rod Dixon, Homebaked – The Musical

Written by Boff Whalley, who was a founder member of the band Chumbawamba, Homebaked – The Musical is stuffed full of catchy songs, spirited characters, and has all the promise of a Liverpudlian Made in Dagenham or Billy Elliot.

Everyone is getting cramp as we cross our fingers with the announcement of Homebaked. Like all of our colleague in the arts we’ve had a very challenging year which has included postponing two tours of new plays to theatres and our Red Ladder Local circuit of community venues.

After a whole year of stand-still in the theatre industry many theatre buildings have a back-log of projects which they have postponed. The log-jam puts pressure on everybody, but it particularly places touring companies such as ourselves in danger of being squeezed out of programmes. A close partnership between touring companies and buildings is vital if theatre is to continue to broaden its audience reach and wonderful variety of offer.

Royal Court Liverpool shares our enthusiasm for this new project; As a co-production, it is a match made in heaven. The Red Ladder audience is very similar to the regular attendees at the Royal Court, bringing in people who maybe don’t identify as typical theatre-goers, but who love a noisy, fun night out, oiled by a pint or three.

On announcing the news that we are creating Homebaked – The Musical, we received an incredible show of support. Appropriately for a show about a bakery, the tickets are selling like hot cakes. It’s proof that there is appetite for this true-life story of hard graft, hope and pies, and for theatre after this challenging year.

It will take several years to overcome the effects of the pandemic lockdown but touring companies working in partnership with building-based organisations, can entice people back into the theatre to enjoy shows with a strong local relevance.


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Guest Blog – Dr Alan Duffield: ‘Performing arts BTECs remain the most readily accessible, egalitarian and flexible provision available.‘

Government proposals that could see the performing arts BTEC scrapped widen inequality in the arts and damage young people’s creative education chances.

Dr Alan Duffield, a performing arts teacher and dance researcher, argues that this move is wrong and will threaten the talent supply to the industry.

Throughout my long years directly involved in performance education, one thing has, sadly,  remained consistent: the lack of a unified, powerful voice in support of performance education as a vital, central part of state schools’ syllabuses. Individuals, and certain institutions have indeed spoken out strongly, as now, though in my opinion not often enough, and not loud enough.

Performing Arts BTECs are under threat. This qualification is the most democratic, approachable form of qualification in state schools/colleges, with developed links for entry to both the professional world of performance, at all levels from administration to professional training, and the academic world of graduate and post graduate work.

A BTEC offers varied entry levels and a very wide based curriculum from which for 16-19 year olds students can select those areas that best suit individual aspirations. Whilst GCSE and Advanced level courses are in several respects highly effective and valuable, I would argue that the BTECs remain the most readily accessible, egalitarian and flexible provision available. This is a qualification we should all fight tooth and nail to preserve.

Jeremy Eden, Head of Drama at Falmouth School, has been involved with BTEC since 1993 says: “In the last few years universities, with the exception of Oxbridge and Durham, have taken them as an equivalent to A levels. In fact, in performing arts, some universities have even given preferential treatment to Btec students because they know that those students will be more rounded in production values, and larger scale teamwork performances.”

He went on to add: “Now more than ever we need to offer creativity to young people. Btecs are a wide-ranging, highly challenging but incredibly satisfying way of learning about all kinds of performance, acting, dance, musical theatre and production styles, as well as giving students the opportunity to follow their own interests. At L3 I currently have one student writing his own stand-up show while another in the same class is directing her peers (not on the course) on Zoom in scenes from Macbeth. They instigated those ideas and we allow them to follow them.”

These views are representative many teachers/lecturers working in schools and colleges, where the BTEC has been increasingly adopted in recent years. This reflects the realisation that the flexibility, range and wider access BTEC offers is increasingly suited to the present and the variety of ways students now access and use and process information. The value of performing arts BTEC courses is undeniable.

In 1966, leaving Goldsmiths with a Teaching Certificate in Drama, I was one of a small but growing number of Drama trained teachers at the forefront of the development of Drama and Dance in state schools. Drama was then firmly tied to English and Dance to PE. Art and Music were already established subjects within the curriculum. However, this was a time of optimism, growth and change, with the establishment of comprehensive education providing an opportunity to innovate within the general curriculum. Drama teachers maximised this and effected rapid developments.

By the end of the 1980’s it was possible to have contact with drama, from school entry, through to post 16, post 18, graduate and postgraduate levels. In state schools, Drama for Key Stages 3 & 4 was increasingly provided by independent departments, whilst for stages 1 & 2 by staff with some initial drama in education training or often through support from local education authority provided in-house courses. Dance, which had a more difficult time establishing independent departments, thankfully followed suit. State examinations at 16 and 18 were pioneered and developed, including BTEC.

Kneehigh Theatre in action (Image: Steve Tanner)

By the end of the 1980’s attacks began on such provision by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and particularly during Kenneth Baker’s tenure as Education Minister. Support services – advisers, TIE teams, Arts Centres – were the first to lose financial support from within an education budget and their work ‘outsourced’. As always with Tory governmental approaches to education, it is the arts subjects that come under fire first.

Nevertheless, a strong level of provision remained the case into the 21st century, though pressure rapidly increased on that position from the time of my retirement from teaching in 2005. Draconian education funding cuts, continual, backward looking alterations to the national curriculum and frequent negative public statements by government ministers have led to Drama departments throughout the country facing reduction in size and provision, even closure and relegation back to the 1960s levels.

The extraordinary work of educators of creative subjects in all phases and at all levels is being rapidly dismantled and downgraded, with Drama and Dance removed from the core curriculum.

Opportunities for young people to engage performance education/experience are rapidly diminishing, along with the facilities, expertise, initiative and values such experiences offered. The private sector suffers no such privations, and those from that privileged sector now increasingly dominate the public face of professional performance work. The damagingly high cost of audition to, and often unfunded study at Drama Schools adds to this sad drift.

With so much being laid waste, and with the inclusive access to performance education narrowing daily, more than ever a concerted, sustained and unified opposition to current developments is an urgent necessity. I particularly include drama schools in this, which have not often thought it a necessary part of their existence to speak truth to power over attacks on the invaluable work of so many dedicated, trained, determined professional teachers in the state sector.

It is vital, despite the unique challenges of Covid-19, that initiatives are taken to provide the powerful, unified voice that is necessary. Groups already exist that could take this initiative, like FDS and SCUDD for example, adding to the work of National Drama and other professional associations.

Time to act now, it will be too late tomorrow.

Dr Alan Duffield. RTD. Performing Arts Teacher. Dance Researcher. 

Petition: Protect student choice: do not withdraw funding for BTEC qualifications

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Guest Blog – Laptops For Vulnerable Children – Emma Baggott: ‘Every day that passes is yet another day when the inequality gap is widening.’

Emma Baggott is a theatre-maker, theatre director and teacher originally from Wales now based in London. She has launched an inspiring appeal to buy laptops for children struggling to do their lessons at home during the pandemic.

On January 4th like many people I’m sat, with my family, waiting for Boris Johnson to grace us with his presence. To hear his briefing. I had given up on the press briefings. Initially, they felt like events, when the vernacular was new, but I had grown tired of the incessant drivel.

Emma Baggott

But January 4th felt different. It felt big and heavy. We waited, we watched, we listened and then we cried. This time around, although devastated for the theatre industry, Johnson had dropped a bomb that hit me to my core. He cancelled the summer 2021 GCSEs. I have a child who has spent her whole school career working towards this seminal milestone.

I was angry and full of rage on behalf of all the young people, not just those no longer sitting their GCSEs. I started to think about all the other young people trying to weather this storm in very different boats.

Ofcom estimates that there are up to 1.7 million children in the UK who do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or a tablet. Through my research it has become apparent that even if families do have the required devices there might not be enough money to pay for all the extra data / Wi-Fi that is needed to be on a Zoom call or access the online lessons.

The government promised one million laptops for remote learning

The government is holding Schools accountable to get all pupils online. Those who can afford devices can stay at home. Those who cannot have to sacrifice their health and go to school.

Forcing children whose parents do not have the disposable income to buy a laptop / tablet to attend school during a pandemic is hideous.

It became very evident that this was not a time for talking but for action. Right now, the government is facing a legal challenge at its lack of action. It has “continually failed” to ensure that disadvantaged students can continue with their education. We all knew that there would be a second wave.

We’ve been in this state for almost a year now there has been such little decisive action from our government. 

On the 4thJanuary I vowed to do something. To make it all a little bit better. Last Thursday I set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy laptops / tablets / data for London’s disadvantaged young people and started tweeting. Twitter really has been a fantastic tool for fundraising.

With wonderful support from Lou Lou Mason and some glorious Tweets from Anna Jordan the fundraiser has really taken off.

We’ve been bowled over by the generosity of the theatre industry and from people far and wide. We’ve had some large donations and have been helped by Tweets and Instagram posts from those with large followings.

Within 36 hours we had reached our initial target of £10,000. With this triumph we raised the target to £20,000.

We have identified the three poorest boroughs in London and will work with two schools from each borough to get them the tech that will be the most useful for their students.

Time is precious. Every day that passes is yet another day when the inequality gap is widening.

Emma Baggott  

You can make a donation here: 


if  you have an old laptop / desktop or tablet you can donate that here:


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Guest Blog — Oily Cart’s Ellie Griffiths: ‘Shielding should not affect anyone’s right to creativity, their right to connection & their right to play.‘

Young people with complex disabilities feel huge anxiety about being excluded when theatres eventually reopen, as many may have to continue shielding until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.
Artistic director of disablity-led theatre company Oily Cart Ellie Griffiths writes about their creative inclusive sessions designed to be explored at home or school.

Looking Forward to a Better Theatre

Oily Cart works with some of the most creative, resilient and dynamic artists and audiences in the country, that society disables.

During the pandemic, we have watched many of these individuals have their equal rights quietly dismantled, and become more invisible. Rather than waiting for a vaccine, or venues to reopen, we made the decision to take our shows online, onto streets and into homes, as part of an uncancellable programme.

The first,Doorstep Jamboree’, features a travelling Balkan band who pop up across London to perform through windows and on the doorsteps of families who are still shielding.

This is as much a protest as a show we feel passionately that shielding should not affect anyone’s right to creativity, their right to connection and their right to play.

This is of course being carried out against the backdrop of an arts sector that is still reeling from “the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure in a generation”. With mass redundancies, reduced funding and venue closures, for many creatives there is simply nonormal’ left to return to.

Freelance workers have been hit particularly hard, especiallythose who are not well established – often directly due tobarriers faced through ethnicity, gender or disability.

A recently published study of theatre’s freelance workers concluded that D/deaf and disabled arts workers have suffered disproportionately during the Covid-19 crisis – more than 40% said they were likely to leave the industry.

Now, as lockdown eases, many disabled artists are left feeling ‘expendable’ as new projects emerge without those who are still shielding.

The government’s decision to withdraw support from individuals who are shielding from the 1st of August has caused further anxiety and confusion in the disabled community, with many feeling they are being asked to pick between their lives and their livelihood.

If we do not all take action, this will be an immense step backwards in the hard-won progress made towards diversifying the arts sector over the last 20 years.

Ellie Griffiths artistic director of Oily Cart

This colossal shift, has however created an unprecedentedopportunity to change the old structures that were not working for everyone. It is now the responsibility of every gate-keeper of the arts to assist in rebuilding a new normal that enables everyone to access culture meaningfully as artists and audiences.

In the new (more inclusive) normal, we understand as an industry that no one size fits all. Each touring show will have both an online and physical format of equal quality. Collaborations and rehearsals can happen flexibly and remotely whenever needed without it being seen as a substitute for the real thing.

We won’t assume everyone has access technology and internet – so pioneering digital works will be followed by low-fi analogue projects that involve packages sent to homes and poems told over the phone as audience members are gently guided though new performance formats.

The work will attend to the wellbeing of creators and audience, respecting each adult, child, disabled and non-disabled individual, as a sensory being, (not just a pair of eyes and ears to be transmitted to). Companies will seek to find intimacy and connection with their audiences in new ways, keeping the essence and integrity of the piece, whilst not being bound to the irrelevant specifics of a theatre culture that no longer exists.

Performances will be more person-centred, acknowledging the audience as a group of diverse individuals who may engage with their material in a variety of different ways, that hold equal value.

And theatre will be better for it. It will be infinitely better.

Ellie Griffiths

Artistic Director






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Guest Blog: ‘I went along to The London Palladium test event and here is what happened.’

Theatres, concert halls and other music venues have been closed due to lockdown measures since the end of March.

When British theatres shut their doors, few could have predicted the devastation caused by coronavirus.

Despite the government’s recent surprise  £1.57bn support package, which many feel came too late, theatres across the UK are being forced to make redundancies – or even to close for good.

 In recent weeks, though, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced plans to open the London Palladium for a test pilot to see how audiences and performers could be welcomed back to the theatre, and get audience members safely back into auditoriums.

It’s no small feat with social-distancing rules in play for the foreseeable future to get any kind of show back on the road. But if anyone can, it’s the one that made a mega-musical about dancing and singing cats: Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

This week I went along to the socially-distanced pilot concert featuring Beverley Knight at The London Palladium, as part of the pilot shows initiative spearheaded by the UK government and Lloyd Webber. 

The process to get these tickets was fairly straightforward: they were free and via the LW Theatre mailing list. I had to wait 24 hours for E-tickets to come through with an allocated time slot for a staggered arrival arrive. There was compulsory mask-wearing and a contactless bag check.  

The COVID-era event opened at 30% capacity, to an audience including the public and industry figures, and to demonstrate strict hygiene methods that can be used to enable UK theatres to reopen.

After E-tickets were scanned, we had our temperatures checked before being welcomed inside – if we were under 38C.

Stepping inside the subdued auditorium and with every second row empty and, seeing every other row of seating entirely marked off, as various other seats to allow for one-metre distancing between each group or “bubble” was heartbreaking at first.

Audiences from the same household could sit together.

However, the atmosphere soon became electric; you could tell that the audience were theatregoers who were emphatic to be back inside a theatre building witnessing live performance.

The Palladium has been kitted out with door handles that use silver ions to kill 99.9% of bacteria. One-way systems were in place throughout the venue, which had been cleaned with antiviral chemical fogging, too.

When the lights went down Lloyd Webber took to the stage.

“I think this amply proves why social distancing in theatre really doesn’t work,” Lloyd Webber said, adding, “It’s a misery for the performers.”

He reinforced the message that theatres cannot operate under current government guidelines. Lloyd Webber stated that Oliver Dowden (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) was doing his ‘best’ and talked about the importance of pantomimes for regional theatres.

He went on to reassure us that people are safer in the venue than they would be on Oxford Street. It became clear that the day wasn’t just about west end theatres, but every theatre across the country.

In this regard, The Palladium – where Knight starred in Lloyd Webber’s Cats in 2015 – is the biggest of the seven London venues in the composer’s LW Theatres group. For this special pilot performance, it held 640 people rather than its usual 2,297 capacity.

After his plea to Boris of ‘give us a date mate’ for theatres to have some idea of when they can open, the lights went down again and Backed by a six-piece band, Beverly Knight took to the stage.

Knight sang ‘Memory’ from the Lloyd Webber musical Cats and things got emotional.

Memory, all alone in the moonlight.

I can dream of the old days, life was beautiful then.

I remember, the time I knew what happiness was.

Let the memory live again.

It was as if the song was written today – and about the current situation we all find ourselves in, and many (including myself) shed a tear. 

Anyway, it was incredible to be back in a theatre and Beverly Knight put on a wonderful concert. I’m not 100% sure that this pilot will make any significant  difference in relation to theatres and their future. But it is step in the right direction.

It was poignant to see first-hand the impact of what it would mean to re-open under the current government guidelines, and to that I say, it would be more of a risk of financial ruin than remaining closed. 

Lloyd Webber called on the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give a more specific indication of when performing arts venues can reopen. “Give us a date,” he urged.

I hope that with the success of this pilot performance the government will start taking the industry seriously and provide a date for when theatres can finally open their doors to full houses.

By Craig Legg

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Guest Blog — Stella Kanu & Shawab Iqbal: ‘The #AllofUs Redundancy Care Campaign will help those in crisis and prepare workers for their journey back into the workplace.‘

A new initiative has been launched to support Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people in the arts who are facing redundancy. Stella Kanu  and Shawab Iqbal tell us all about #TheAllOfUsCampaign.

Stella Kanu (Executive Director, London International Festival of Theatre LIFT)

It would be extremely easy, and of course relevant, to spend this entire blog only reflecting on the despair and pain which our sector has faced due to COVID-19. We are indeed in unchartered and difficult waters. The things we have uncovered in the last 6 months about the creative and cultural sector has been unsettling – 70% of our workforce working freelance with 86% of all freelance staff engaged by National Portfolio Organisations identifying as Black, Asian or ethnically diverse.

High levels of freelancers have been left high and dry excluded by restrictive eligibility criteria for emergency funds. Work cancellations, event and show postponements, venue closures, restructures, and mass redundancies and still we await fine government detail about the roadmap to recover and most venues reopening. 

We have been reminded that we may still have to wait for the social case for arts to match the economic imperative. In this climate we have been able to remind the public and ourselves of our financial contribution to the British economy and the identity of our nations. But these days have also been filled with direct action coupled with moments of people coming together, collective generosity and displays of practical care comingfrom the ground up.

Shawab Iqbal (Executive Producer, Eclipse Theatre and Senior Artistic Associate, Bush Theatre)

Between us, as both leaders in the industry and members of the Arts Council’s London Area Council, we have sat in endless Zooms of discussion about the role of diversity and inclusion in recovery; we have pushed for the equitable democracy in who is contributing to decision making and most importantly we have been asking what will save our diverse workforce who were being made redundant in record numbers. Urgent, driven action is often challenging to achieve in mega scale governmental or Arts Council bureaucracies. Things take time, channels for decision and check and balances are often counterintuitive to any calls for action now! Now! now!

The sector already employs then than 4% of its senior leaders from a diverse pool and the general workforce ethnically sits a 14%. Our concern is that much of these almost daily redundancies weigh towards staff in public-facing and junior roles, which is further compounded by statistics that Black, Asian, ethnically diverse and migrant arts workers are most likely to be in those roles.

We decided 2 weeks ago to just go ahead and do something ourselves. We could take no more anxious-ladden phone calls, DMs and emails from distressed and worried ethnically diverse colleagues. An early morning simple text between us, snowballed into us calling in the Black Womxn in Theatre team, pulling our networks, and shaping a programme that could prevent an impending talent drain among non-artistic and back end roles that keep community work, organisations and venues running smoothly.

The #AllofUs Redundancy Care Campaign will help those in crisis and prepare workers for their journey back into the workplace. It is built around the concept of the cultural sector helping itself. We raise money through the sector, asking our cultural leaders to lead by example and give the minimum of £100.

Many are having to make heart breaking decisions about people they care about– we are all at the end of the day emotionally feeling our way through this time, despite the number crunching and cash flow reporting. We also want to track how the redundancies and restructuring now taking place may disproportionately affect all ethnically diverse workers across every level from the most junior to the most senior, creating our #AllOfUs Crisis fund.

#AllOfUs will present a series of programmes starting with #HereToStay in August. This will be a 4-week package of practical support to help upskill and empower workers who face employment uncertainty to regain their confidence in the workplace. Recipients will get financial assistance, coaching, mentoring, masterclasses, plus CV and application guidance, delivered by a team of senior arts professionals with a wealth of experience. The programme is open to people working across all art forms, including theatre, music, dance, comedy, museums and galleries.

We just want people to feel valued and motivate everybody to focus on rebuilding the sector and getting back to a new kind of normal.

The #AllOfUs Care Package (inclusive of the crisis fund and #HereToStay programme) will be announced on 27 July 2020.


Could A Modern Sports Story Work On Stage?




When you think about it, there’s very little crossover between the world of sports and stage productions. In fact, there are virtually no significant examples (though there are some smaller ones). The New Yorker delved into this idea back in 2012, and came to an exceedingly simple but perhaps perfectly appropriate conclusion: regarding a musical about the basketball star Magic Johnson, the article concluded, people would “rather see him play.”

It was a specific conclusion about a specific production, but it feels as if it encompasses the core issue with sports-related plays and musicals. Those who would be interested in these subjects, for the most part, would rather just watch the real thing than sit through a drama about it that can’t possibly put forth the same level of action.

This idea, if we accept it, obliterates the potential for most sports stories to be adapted for the stage – but not necessarily all of them. There are at least a few general concepts and specific stories that could conceivably have a place on a stage somewhere.

A Jerry Maguire Story

Jerry Maguire is one of the most iconic sports movies of the last 30 years – but it also contains so little in the way of actual sports that the prominent pop culture and sports site Grantland once ran an article debating what sort of movie it was. Adapting Jerry Maguire itself to the stage is a big ask, given that it was so thoroughly driven by its lead actors and the era in which it came out. But it does provide something of a blueprint for a pseudo-sports drama that could, in fact, work on stage. A creative story about a manager and an athlete, with a love story or two worked in, could make for a wonderful show, and rope in sports fans at the same time.


Moneyball is a more recent film, but it pulled off something similar to what Jerry Maguire did, in that it’s at least largely a sports movie that has very little focus on actual sports action. It’s a more specific story, about actual characters and a real shift that occurred in the analytical thinking behind baseball, and for this reason it would need to be adapted more directly. Whether or not a tale that revolves around baseball would be a hit in the UK specifically is up for debate – but in general, Moneyball appears to be the rare sports story that could be handled well on stage.

The Leicester City Story

Leicester City’s 2016 Premier League title may be the greatest underdog story of the 21st century, and would certainly resonate with a UK audience. Now, showing the actual action of the team’s wins would be virtually impossible, but there’s actually another angle that could show this story from the average British football fan’s point of view: the betting story. Modern bookmaking sites have helped more and more fans get used to the ins and outs of betting, which means a lot of people would understand a story revolving around someone making a fortune on Leicester’s win. This was a famously lucrative Premier League outcome for a few lucky bettors (one man supposedly won £200,000), so this would actually be a familiar story and would turn the underdog story into a drama viewed through the lens of an average person.

Simone Biles 2016

This could be the most ambitious idea on the list, because a very talented gymnast would be needed to make it work. However, if you were to sit and think about which actual sports could be depicted on a theatre stage, gymnastics has to be high on the list. This, coupled with the fact that American gymnast Simone Biles only recently had a historically incredible performance at the Rio Olympics in 2016, provides a rare opportunity for an actual sports-centric show. A play or musical about Simone Biles’s quest for history – or maybe even about the legendary American team Biles led – could be great fun.