As we report today, coronavirus is already having a detrimental impact on theatres and performers.
Actors are reporting losing work as shows overseas are cancelled, and venues – such as Storyhouse in Chester – have begun to postpone show openings because they are fearful about the economic impact the virus could have on productions. Andrew Lloyd Webber has indicated this is the reasoning behind a recent announcement that his forthcoming musical, Cinderella, will be delayed while the UK rides out this crisis.
A snap poll conducted by The Stage indicates Lloyd Webber et al may have a point. Of the 2,508 people who took part, 54% said the threat of coronavirus would put them off going to the theatre. This is a worrying time and one that seems unprecedented as far as theatre is concerned. The industry has procedures in place to tackle all sorts of issues, from terrorism to ceiling collapses. But this is unchartered territory, and the pace with which it is unfolding means it’s impossible to predict how it is going to play out.
Of the 2,508 people who took part in The Stage’s snap poll, 54% said the threat of coronavirus would put them off going to the theatre
The advice, at the time of writing, appears to be to carry on as normal. The government has not said it will be banning public events such as theatregoing, and the only real guidance seems to be around washing your hands for 20 to 30 seconds. Other than that, it is a case of watching and waiting.
What is needed is joined-up thinking from the industry bodies that represent so many people. We need the likes of the Society of London Theatre, UK Theatre, Equity and other major bodies to form a united front on this. They need to be talking and preparing, and doing their bit to get the message out that it’s very much business as usual, while being mindful of the precariousness people in the sector already face and that the impact of coronavirus is likely to intensify that.
On Broadway, trade body the Broadway League has spoken to the media about measures needed to tackle coronavirus. SOLT, so far, has remained comparatively quiet on the situation, at least publicly.
Until we’re told otherwise, the focus must be on encouraging people to carry on supporting their local theatres, and to avoid financial disasters that could be damaging for so many. To quote that old adage, the show must go on. For now.
Matthew Hemley is news editor of The Stage