I agree with everything that Lyn Gardner says about supporting freelance artists, but she doesn’t push the argument far enough.
In 1599, if the landlord put the rent up, you could dismantle your theatre and rebuild it on the other side of the river. But even then, in England’s first building-based theatres, the writing was on the wall. Putting theatre into a building and calling it a theatre was the beginning of the end of theatre for everyone.
It’s a long time since theatre has had to cope with plague as well as grasping landlords, but perhaps another shared Shakespearean experience will lead to changes that are long overdue. The 2020 pandemic has hit theatres and restaurants in the same place, not in what they do, but where they do it. If this is the end for fancy restaurants and fancy theatres, I won’t shed any tears. Ticket prices have gone up for only one reason, and it’s not to pay the actors.
We should be guided in this as in everything else by the science, which tells us that the virus spreads much more rapidly indoors than outdoors. I’m looking forward to more street food and more street theatre, convivial and affordable, cheap and cheerful, paying for what I get, not where I get it.
Otley, West Yorkshire
Sadly, until the general population have immunity to Covid-19 and global travel is able to resume, I can’t see theatres being able to open.
We should be looking at repurposing the buildings in the meantime for what is needed. Some workrooms are already making scrubs for the NHS. It’s a time for re-thinking how theatre is presented. Currently people are viewing it online. It may be monologues and smaller outdoor gatherings.
The concept of social distancing goes against the nature of the collective experience that theatre sets out to achieve for actors and audiences.
It may be that theatres do not open again until sometime in 2021 or at least not until a vaccine is in wide currency. The same can be said of work on film sets and large casting calls – especially for TV commercials, where actors are grouped together in small spaces.
None of this can happen until a verified level of safety can be found. It is sad that many in this industry are suffering, but these are unprecedented times under a national pandemic and a reality check is needed and an acceptance of that reality.
It’s crazy that theatres in the UK might not open until next year. Spain is opening theatres at the end of this month – starting at 33% capacity, then going to 50% by the end of June.
I can’t wait to sit in a theatre again. That vaccine can’t come soon enough.
Theatres should reopen at full capacity in September. Then audiences can decide whether they think it’s safe. I believe you are more at risk on the Tube or a bus – these are still running in London.
The question should be: why are theatres being discriminated against if they can’t open when the shutdown is lifted at the end of May? I believe they will be fully operational in September but many will remain dark until production catches up as well.
Audiences may be hard to come by to start with, which will provide a brake on capacity, but they will be near capacity for the Christmas seasons.
People need live theatre and music, and the risk is very low compared with transport systems and big stores.
Ray R Richards
If you are looking for non-fiction books about theatre, you could start with the long list of books published last year and entered for the Theatre Book Prize. You’ll find it on the Society for Theatre Research website.
And don’t miss Stage Blood by Michael Blakemore and A Fanny Full of Soap by Nichola McAuliffe.
Thanks for Nick Awde’s article on the ways that European theatremakers are coping with impact of coronavirus closures.
It’s very interesting and useful to see how the theatre industry in other countries is doing.
I’m genuinely confused about what is costing all this money. If the NT is able to furlough its staff then surely all that needs paying for is the upkeep of the building?
What costs money is refunding ticket prices and potentially paying a percentage to those shows that were cancelled. Banks charge theatre for a refund so if you buy a £30 ticket, you get £30 back from the theatre, but they have to bear the banking costs which can average out at anywhere between 3% and 8%. Multiply that by a full house, then by a week’s run – it all adds up pretty quickly. This is why so many venues are asking people to donate the cost of their ticket or keep it ‘on account’ to use at a later date.
Theatres may also have contractual obligations to pay a certain amount in cancellation fees to the producers of the show. This may be returned through insurance, but that takes time and cash flow is currently an issue.
Most theatres will have furloughed about 90% of their staff, but they still need a core group of people to run a remote box office, plan for the future, and security for buildings. Those staff are receiving a wage when there is no income. My theatre furloughed about 400 people, but there is still a core team of 25 working hard from their living rooms (we have three venues). I hope to God we bounce back. I have faith the team working while I am not, but it is all down to so many different aspects – many of which we still can’t predict.