I am a theatre prop maker and supervisor and I have been for the past 20 years. I am used to working long hours and having little time off work. I have recently completed a small job propping a television drama documentary. Here are some thoughts.
After three months of no work, engaging my brain into work mode was hard. I struggled to sit down to work for a couple of hours a day and had to read the script in small sections over a few days, as opposed to sitting down and absorbing it in one hit. It took me far longer than normal to complete the props list and to cost the production.
I love my job, I had missed work, but I struggled to engage. I used to easily work for 10-13 hours a day without even thinking about it, but here I was, post-lockdown, struggling to concentrate for three hours in a single day. It was as though my brain was surrounded by treacle and cotton wool. Speaking to others in the production team, we were all having similar experiences.
I hadn’t spent three months in bed. I had been doing yoga every day, swimming (once it was allowed) and my physical self was in fair shape. I was working with people who ran frequently, people who had cycled their way through lockdown, our fitness levels were not the problem.
We were dealing with homeschooling; not being able to see family; being in different cities from loved ones and not being able to support them through tough times; the hideous financial strain and simply having to cope with not going to work. It takes its toll and although I and the rest of the team quite happily got back in to the swing of things, because we had been so busy dealing with priorities that weren’t work related, it took time.
For each of us, when we head back to work, it’s likely we’ll go from mooching around making soda bread at our leisure to full steam ahead in the space of minutes.
Theatre is known to be relentless and our theatre muscles are out of practice, so it’s going to take us time to get up to speed. If there isn’t an awareness of this and we all try to start where we left off, I fear we are going to burn out quickly. As we will all be going through it at the same time, there won’t be people with reserves or extra energy to lift us up and keep us going.
I can’t help but think of stage management teams working through their breaks during rehearsals and techs every day, grabbing a sandwich on the go (if they’re lucky) purely because that’s the way it is. That’s before the added pressures created by additional Covid-19 related health and safety procedures. If we continue in this vein, I fear it is going to result in a lot of broken people before we even get started again.
Time is money, of course. Our industry has lost millions of pounds and the powers that be will want to recoup as quickly as possible. However, if you’re handling the scheduling, be that long-term planning or weekly schedules, if at all possible, please consider easing in to things slowly.
To every producer/director/manager/head of department, please consider everyone in your rehearsal room, in your workshop/workroom/studio/office, be they performer or technical/creative staff, see that they have the time they need to readjust to the working day.
Give us, your colleagues, the opportunity to produce our best work without burning out.
Without pantomimes the UK would cease to have theatre culture except in London. Pantomimes enable our remaining and diminished collection of regional theatres to continue being available – rather than go the way of all the many theatres demolished in the last century and not replaced.
But there will only be pantos if vaccines and new treatments for Covid-19 become available as, with luck, they will be by the middle of the autumn. But without a vaccine there will be risks attached to going to theatres – and if there is any late surge in infections, as there very likely will be, seasons of panto will not make money.
It seems increasingly likely that Covid-19 is not going to be the end of live theatre, dance and music (or even opera). But these are all live intimate social occasions and there is no point in pretending they are not. So to say ‘wait for it’ is in fact wise.
Hey panto people, embrace the new normal, 2020 is history.
If other major, event timelines can work out a bit of innovative ‘time shift’, why not pantomimes? For example, the French Open tennis tournament will be in October rather than June. The F1 Grand Prix will have successive races in the same location, rather than being hosted in various countries around the world as it is usually.
No one is going anywhere and come January 1, 2021, the Hackney Empire will still be in Hackney. Theatre Royal Plymouth – tides permitting – will still be in Plymouth.
So, start to plan for this year’s pantomime season to break loose on a fresh New Year (dare I say un-EUncumbered New Year) and everyone can have a nice December and Christmas planning pantos. Then let the party begin afresh and anew.
Surely you’re not all waiting for the Barn Theatre in deepest Cirencester to show the way?
The fact that these clauses asking theatre workers to repay furlough contributions are even in discussion is a sign of how deteriorated morality in our industry has become.
I call on the unions to unilaterally condemn these types of discussions.
Having read the article regarding the study “on the risks associated with singing and playing brass instruments” – I presume not at the same time – being commissioned by our cultureless secretary Oliver Dowden, I would like to know why the Musicians’ Union is not involved, given that its members sing and play these instruments?
If we still had regular music classes in all schools, they would know the answers already. But we know what happened