Theatre is facing its biggest peacetime threat

I could cry. I have.

Broadway is dark for a month, a closure that is much longer than the few days that shows shut after Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Analysts say that this could cost anywhere from $250 to $500 million – depending on when officials allow for public gatherings again.

Of course, regional theatres are closed “until further notice,” and the number of advance tickets and income has dropped by 92%. Last month one medium scale venue shifted £4,000. This week the total box office takings were £30.

The theatre world shifted overnight.

BECTU have stated that more than 70% of freelance workers are worried that they will not be able to pay bills. Furthermore, a staggering 47% of freelancers have confirmed that 100% of their work has been cancelled.

Thankfully, today the Government announced that they are setting up a back-of-a-fag-packet coronavirus job retention scheme. Grants will cover 80% of the salary or retained workers, up to a total of £2,500 a month,

The West End shut down has now been extended to April 26, “whilst we wait for further clarity from government,” says the Society of London Theatre.

As venues across the nation cancelled performances and locked the doors in the wake of coronavirus, organisations have asked audiences to donate and book advance tickets, following the government’s warning this week to avoid theatres and public gatherings.

Ticket holders should wait to be contacted by their point of purchase, rather than attempt to contact customer service teams, who are systematically working to contact all affected customers.

The size of this is staggering.

Elsewhere, Lambert Jackson productions have come up with a way to keep theatre lovers entertained as coronavirus brings things to a halt. They have teamed up with Theatre Café for a live-streamed series of concerts, Leave a Light On beginning on March 23, with 3, 45-minute concerts performed each day. Viewers will be charged £7.50 per performance.

Surely those with little to no income should be able to access a free concert?

Theatre Cafe’s Chief Operating Officer, Ryan Woods assures me that as soon as they have got a few under their belt they will look at implementing this.

What irks me about Leave a Light On, though, is that even if compassion fatigue has never been more of a problem, why are organisers prepared to break social distancing recommendations to earn money? I’m not sure west end stars need the exposure or income; it seems like a quick buck for everyone.

Which I hope doesn’t sound like I’m diminishing the efforts of all involved.

Bryony Kimmings - I’m a Pheonix ... Bitch!

Bryony Kimmings – I’m a Pheonix … Bitch!

There are moments when generosity and humanity from the industry simply overwhelms me. See: Bryony Kimmings, who has called on fellow theatre-makers to donate money to those who are in need and playwright Luke Barnes who has set up the Liverpool Artists Coronavirus Fund.

So, in circumstances as bleak as these, we need laughter, compassion and entertainment. It’s become clear to me that we must make fundamental changes to absolutely everything we do.

Mind you, theatre’s greatest strength is also its biggest medium; the emphasis is as much on evocation as experience. And, of course, a communal experience.

What can I personally do to make this all more bearable?

I have written to Rufus Norris to ask him to consider unlocking the National Theatre Collection so we can all safely watch the watch the very best of British theatre during this difficult time.

I’ve included some links and theatre resources below. (you’re welcome).

Listen, we will find a way through this ongoing crisis.

Stay well.

Theatre Helpline: 0800 915 4617advice@theatrehelpline.org

ArtsMinds: artsminds.co.uk

Theatre Resources For Isolation

Compiled by Ollie Jones (oliver.jones@york.ac.uk) – with thanks to too many people to mention for suggestions and links!

*starred items require institutional log in – usually there is a log in [by institution] option which takes you to the York Shibboleth system (or equivalent if at another institution)

Comment permissions are set to open for all. Please feel free to add suggestions!



Full shows:

  • The Show Must Go Online – The actor Robert Myles has set up a reading group for professional and amateur actors to perform Shakespeare’s complete plays in the order they’re believed to have been written. The first livestreamed reading, on YouTube, will be The Two Gentleman of Verona on Thursday (19 March).
  • Showstopper! The Improvised Musical – After more than 1,000 productions, the Showstoppers improv crew are some of the quickest wits in the biz. So it’s no surprise that when they were faced with a West End closure they live-streamed a performance. Watch their custom-made, never-to-be-repeated impro musical on Facebook.
  • Viral Monologues – Twenty actors perform new monologues written just for them in this initiative. The performances will be shared online every 15 minutes on Tuesday night (17 March) and there’s some top talent involved, including comedian David Cross, actors Rachel Dratch and Andre Royo, and writers David Lindsay-Abaire, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Monique Moses.
  • Since U Been Gone – Teddy Lamb was due to present a Trans Take Over at London’s Bunker theatre this week as part of its now suspended Power Share season. So they have uploaded a version of their musical fringe hit about losing loved ones and finding your own voice.
  • Bubble – Is this the short-term future of theatremaking? Bubble, a play set entirely on Facebook, uses a cast of European actors who never met in person, rehearsed over Skype and filmed on their cameras. Theatre Uncut release the production, written by Beats playwright Kieran Hurley, on 23 March. Theatre Uncut — Events
  • 5 Soldiers – Rosie Kay’s extraordinary 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline was staged in army drill halls around the UK but since its live stream is still available online you can watch it from the comfort of your own sofa. Performing in close quarters to a score that mixes punk and opera, Kay’s phenomenal company bring home the horror of combat and disarm audiences.
  • Girls Like That – London’s Unicorn theatre has a world-class reputation for theatre for young audiences and its production of Evan Placey’s Girls Like That gripped the roomful of teenagers I watched it with in 2014. It’s online in full and offers a raw account of adolescent anxiety, slut-shaming and self-belief. In-your-face theatre that stays in your mind.
  • Le Patin Libre – Think dance on ice and you’d imagine sequins and staggering TV celebrities but the Canadian troupe Le Patin Libre has taken the artform into a new dimension. In their double bill Vertical Influences, the skaters turned the rink into a mesmerising stage slowly decorated by the patterns cut by their blades.
  • Woke – LIVR is a subscription service that enables you to catch up on theatre in 360-degree virtual reality. Pop your smartphone into the headset they send you and experience a range of shows including Apphia Campbell’s Fringe First award-winning show Woke, which interweaves the stories of Black Panther Assata Shakur and the 2014 Ferguson riots.
  • John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons – Self-isolation may mean that many of us will use living rooms to both teach children and watch theatre. An opportunity to combine the two can be found courtesy of the super-charismatic John Leguizamo – an inspirational tutor if ever there was – whose one-man Broadway show Latin History for Morons is on Netflix.
  • My Left Nut – This is cheating as it’s a TV series but BBC3’s superb comedy drama is based on one ofthe most uproarious and affecting fringe theatre shows of recent years. It’s based on Michael Patrick’s own teenage experience of a medical condition that left his testicle “so big you could play it like a bongo”. Wince.
  • Rosas Danst Rosas – Love dance? Need to exercise at home? Then join the queen of Belgian avant-garde performance Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as she talks you through how to perform her 1983 classic Rosas Danst Rosas. All you need is a chair, a bit of legroom and enough space to swing your hair.
  • Dead Centre have released the recording of ‘Lippy’ (2013ish) – link here: https://vimeo.com/253790281 and password is context
  • For Katie Mitchell/opera fans, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich is streaming her recent production of ‘Judith’ until 26 March. Link here: https://operlive.de/judith/

Other video resources:

Theatre-related programmes and features on streaming services:


Search for podcasts using your favourite app…

  • Beyond Shakespeare is broadcasting a series of lunchtime readthroughs of non-Shakespeare early modern plays. Check out their twitter page for updates: https://twitter.com/BeyondShakes
  • Pursued by a Bear – by Exeunt Magazine
  • AdLib – York Theatre Royal’s podcast
  • Pod4Ham –  a song by song examination of Hamilton
  • Hamiltcast – a no-stone-left-unturned exploration of the groundbreaking show Hamilton, its multilayered musical treats and its cultural impact. https://www.thehamilcast.com/
  • Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast – Simon Stephens interviews 40 playwrights
  • David Tennant Does a Podcast With…
  • NT Talks – 10 years of talks with actors, directors and more recorded at the National Theatre
  • Curtain Call Theatre Podcast – spotlights current shows through wide-ranging interviews, which give listeners a detailed sense of what it takes for a show to come together. https://curtaincalltheatre.libsyn.com/
  • “Variety’s Stagecraft” – a deep gold mine of searching interviews with actors and other theater professionals about their Broadway and off-Broadway endeavors. https://broadwaypodcastnetwork.com/podcast/varietys-stagecraft/
  • Playing On Air – contemporary one-act play performed by actors like Adam Driver, Audra McDonald and Michael C. Hall, followed by a conversation with the creative team. https://playingonair.org/?
  • ‘Off Book: The Black Theatre Podcast’ – features conversations between the hosts and a selection of guests from all walks of theatrical life, including actors, costume designers and writers. https://soundcloud.com/off-book-theatre-podcast
  • BBC podcasts: In Our Time, The Life Scientific, Infinite Monkey Cage, Desert Island Discs, From Our Own Correspondent, Friday Night Comedy, You’re Dead to Me, Forest 404
  • Other non-theatre recommendations: Guilty Feminist, Global Pillage, The Best Pick, 99% Invisible, Ologies, Reply All
  • RTE Radio Drama. Radio plays from Ireland’s national broadcaster https://www.rte.ie/drama/radio/
  • BBC 4 Radio Drama https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xxp0g

Exeunt’s list of Distractions, inspirations, projects and more (http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/covid-19-resources-uk-theatre-freelancers/)

Other resources

For any teachers of drama who have had to hastily convert their teaching to online platforms, this Google Doc has some excellent, drama-specific resources and advice:

Teaching Theatre Online: A Shift in Pedagogy Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1i-keJ_frOOEUa50CLAdz86hq5CxQwBQ2T4hbSI2nYdM/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR11cVZdw4DXEZqNCgOwYn_swxIhlHfsWXF9tMu9-7aiKfQljSyecFGkfnI