I am sure that, like me, the recent terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena sits heavy on your mind.
In the following days, the media showed us pictures of the victims, all enjoying a night out at a concert, many of them experiencing live performance for the first time.
That the attacker struck at a pop concert, at a part of our family of creative industries, makes this horrific act feel particularly close to home.
Who in theatre can’t relate to the young (and older) fans flocking to the stage door to wait for an autograph and a selfie? The audience members at Ariana Grande’s concert might just as easily have been to see Wicked.
For the entertainment industry, these next few months will be critical. One of the many questions to be asked is whether audiences will feel safe and confident to keep booking?
As the people of Manchester demonstrated, Brits are proud, resilient people. But inevitably some people may worry. Theatre needs to reassure prospective ticket buyers without making them feel anxious.
In 2016, I wrote about the deployment of SWAT teams guarding various Broadway theatres. Will the same tactics now be used for our West End theatres?
It’s problematic. The public can’t be expected to know the different theatre owners’ respective venue security procedures (nor even be aware of who the owner is). If one theatre has an armed guard stationed outside it, while another doesn’t, it can create a sense of concern. It’s a similar situation with bag checks: some theatres have chosen to apply this measure and others have not. But just how successful are they as a mode of public reassurance?
When I went to a West End show a few weeks ago, the check involved a cursory glance inside the bag, which was then squeezed by the usher. I am certainly not an explosives expert but I’m not sure that squeezing a bag is the right practice if there were to be a bomb inside it. What happens if the bag contains an electronic device or a laptop in it? Are audience members going to have to turn on all their equipment for inspection? If so, we’ll be asking them to show up an hour early for the show just to get through security. It’d be like going to the airport.
And the idea of introducing a total ban on bags in the theatre would kill the West End and many regional theatres, where audience members head after work. Yes, you could ask for all bags to be left in the cloakroom, but that simply moves the problem elsewhere. Scanners? Great, if you’ve got room…
There is also a problem with all of these measures that the Manchester attack so coldly illustrates. The bomb was detonated outside the arena. For many theatres, you’d have to close the pavement in busy thoroughfares.
Whatever theatres decide to do, they should decide to do together. The security policy should be coherent and workable, uniform from one theatre to the next, and reassuring for audiences.