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Theatre will bounce back – hope can take us a long way

Emilia

I am in shock as to what has happened to my industry and wondering what the future holds.

This week, Entertainment venues in England were forced to close again, as the UK moved back into tougher national measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. Dozens of theatres have abandoned plans to reopen and venues are now closed till at least December 2.

We are currently at Level 2 on the government’s road map to reopening live performance venues. Thankfully, performers and performances are permitted to rehearse, record and film “behind closed doors” but not play to a live audience.

A spokesperson for DCMS said that the government is “committed to getting the curtain up at venues across the country as soon as it is safe to do so.

I read all this with sinking despair.

There has, though, been a wealth of innovation exploring the potential of online streaming. Productions with the budget and capability have proven that streaming can provide a cash boost as well as reach wider audiences.

Money can be made out of streaming ambitious new and archive productions: The Old Vic plans to live-stream A Christmas Carol from the theatre’s empty auditorium. A recording of Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Emilia is available to stream from next week on a pay-what-you-decide basis, which is terrific.

Theatres have had the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. The majority of this summer was spent Covid-proofing premises and welcoming back audiences safely with invention.

For the first time, we have had to draw on energy that we never knew we had, if we had given up at any hurdles then nothing would have happened. But, not even the scientists or the government know how things will pan out – theatres need a reopening date.

#WeMakeEvents demo at Parliament Square

#WeMakeEvents demo at Parliament Square

The government has been urged to do more to support performers and other arts freelancers; many are still excluded. The National Audit Office reported last month that up to 2.9 million people had fallen through the cracks of furlough and SEISS schemes.

This week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed further extensions of the furlough and self-employed support schemes. But this followed thousands of unnecessary redundancies in the arts. The government’s handling of this pandemic has revealed how woefully incompetent they are.

There has been no real time for reflection throughout the devastation of both lockdowns, the rules of theatre have been rewritten on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we can’t set our calendars to a vaccine or testing.

We must be patient, and find ways to stay sane and creative.

Now, the time has come to stop living on past glories, theatres have been around before us and they will be there long after we are gone. The pandemic has given us all the short sharp shock we perhaps needed to develop a proper perspective on life.

So, how long is this going to go on for?  And more to the point, where are we headed?

Crave

Personal highlights for me have been Nottingham Playhouse’s wonderful Unlocked season, Crave streaming from Chichester Festival Theatre (I know!)

In Leeds, Slung Low continue to deliver their invaluable Cultural Community College and food bank service.

Special mention must also go to Sonia Friedman, who reunited a Covid-dispersed Uncle Vanya cast for cinemas.

Many, many people are continuing to create brilliant work and have revealed a readiness to respond to these troubling times.

As we head into a long and uncertain winter, now might be the time to rethink how to share out dwindling resources to benefit all. Building greater resilience, capacity and sustainability is key.

2020 has been the most dramatic, life-changing and traumatic years in modern history.

Personally, I have never been more exhausted.

As I write, it is early November. Joe Biden has won the US presidency by clinching Pennsylvania after days of painstaking vote counting.

We can have an understanding of yesterday, a plan for today and we can have hope for forever, and that’s it.

Hope can take us a long way.