In March this year, when the world moved into its first Covid- 19 lock-down, none of us could have imagined the devastation on the Theatre Industry. As we tentatively stepped back out into the European summer, we didn’t foresee we’d be back for a second lockdown as we head toward the new year.
And while the Theatre industry has run perilously close to collapse over recent months, and there is still concern over the viability of the Christmas pantomime season, companies have found ways to persevere and keep their doors open, often in unexpected ways. Theatres through the course of the year have been able to create and survive, whether that be taking work out of the theatres and into the public domain, digitising performances or using empty theatre space for the good of the community.
The Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre have responded to the pandemic by taking their theatre outdoors for this Christmas season. Their socially distanced creation Present is a set of four ‘handcrafted, pop-up’ Christmas Shows, each one a unique performance that will be held on the doorstep or back gardens of community nominated Dundonians.
Oxford-based Creation Theatre will be taking their work digital after being awarded £165k in funding. They will create a digital repertory company and a new online theatre platform including the development of projects that aim to “pave the way for new approaches in the industry”.
Some companies with empty theatres have found ways to raise income while helping the community. Manchester’s Lowry Theatre has set up a temporary court to help ease the legal backlog while their theatre was empty. Dubbed the ‘Nightingale Court’, the venue has acted as an additional Magistrates’ Court to deal with excess cases in the criminal justice system, and in doing so provided income for the gallery and theatre.
Another great example is Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, which has converted its traditional theatre space into a hub for the Highland Council to deliver humanitarian aid as well as turning over their box office system to become a community helpline.
Some theatres have been able to live stream their performances, allowing at least some of their annual programme to go ahead, albeit digitally, including the upcoming Philip Ridley’s Poltergeist at Southwark Playhouse on 20–21 November.
The good news is that in this lockdown rehearsals can still go ahead, meaning shows in development should be ready to go live as soon as the lockdown is set to end December 2nd. Stephen Fry and a group of actors will celebrate the reopening with a charity performance of a semi-staged rehearsed reading of The Understudy at the Palace Theatre on the 7th & 8th December with proceeds going to Acting For Others, the Equity Charitable Trust and The Theatre Development Trust, run by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre.
Let’s hope this ingenuity, flex and collaboration will keep our spirits and the curtain up and see theatre companies thrive again in 2021 and beyond.