This week has marked a full year since UK theatres were shuttered as the first lockdown was announced.
It was on the evening of Monday, March 16, 2020 that theatres closed their doors following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s declaration that “drastic action” was needed to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Save some socially-distanced performances in the autumn, the doors of these iconic buildings, artistic hubs and community centres have remained shut now for a full year. The devastating impact of 12 months of lockdown was revealed in a survey published earlier this week.
As we mark the unwanted lockdown anniversary, we collated some reflections from leading figures from within the theatre sector. They shared their memories of that fateful day last March, their ruminations on how the community has responded to the challenges faced, and also looked ahead to the roadmap that could see stalls and balconies full once again by June...
Philip Bernays, chief executive of Newcastle Theatre Royal, describes March 16, 2020 as a “blur”. He told TheTicketingBusiness: “We were expecting it to happen and had worked out more or less what to do, but when it actually happened we just went into overdrive (and stayed there for several months) – it was so unlike anything we had ever experienced or expected.
“As the consultants always say about risk registers, the thing that happens is always the thing that isn’t on the risk register, and whilst that is good in as much as it shows we are managing known risks, unknown risks are by definition unknown!”
Nick Parr, Theatre Director at New Wimbledon Theatre / Ambassador Theatre Group, recalled the curtain rising for the final time last March in a heartfelt post on LinkedIn.
While he celebrated the “resilient” New Wimbledon Theatre team, he said: “Theatre is a people business. Even with greater use of digital, particularly in ticketing and marketing, it is people, great people, that make theatre work. On stage, off stage, in supporting industries – and it’s been a tough year working in an empty building – a Teams call is no substitute for bustling offices and a packed auditorium.
“We await just 5 new words from the government – ‘Theatres can open, without restrictions.’”
Birmingham Hippodrome is certainly looking ahead with enthusiasm in this video, featuring chief executive Fiona Allan.
Vanessa Lefrancois, Oxford Playhouse’s joint director and chief executive, said: “People in the theatre sector are incredibly innovative and resilient. The past 12 months demonstrates how quickly people across our sector embraced change, adapted and found creative solutions to continue to make work and engage with audiences.
“At Oxford Playhouse there has been terrific camaraderie; staff have worked collaboratively in new ways, developing their technical skills and delivering pioneering projects online. It hasn’t been easy, but we have remained positive and been productive and proactive.
“We have focussed on the future as much as the present, looking for silver-linings and identifying opportunities, in order to sustain our engagement with the public and retain skilled staff in our sector.
“The year has enhanced company and industry wide collaboration, as we have come together to find collective solutions to challenges and shared our learning internally and externally with colleagues in our sector.”
Bryony Shanahan, joint artistic director and CEO at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, described in a tweet how “inspired” she has been by her colleagues and peers.
Shaun Gorringe, house operations manager at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, said in a LinkedIn post: “Around this time 12 months ago I set off for work, not expecting that the performance that evening would be the last performance on our stage for a whole year; and what a year it’s been. 12 months ago, we closed our doors, scattered from work and watched the world change. I cannot wait to see an audience enjoying our theatre again.”
Royal Opera House celebrated the content that it has continued to bring to arts enthusiasts despite its enforced closure.
In an insightful blog, Mark Da Vanzo, chief executive at Liverpool Everyman, said that theatre has an important role as the country moves beyond the pandemic and the impact of lockdown.
He said: “While Covid-19 will have left an indelible mark on the sector, I am optimistic that we can rise again and continue to inspire those we reach. It is clear to me that the arts will play an instrumental part in the nation’s recovery.”
In a final consideration we might all echo, he added: “My hope for the year ahead is that we continue to innovate, collaborate and face shared challenges together.”