What will theatre shows and gigs look like post-lockdown?
What’s on editor Louisa Baldwin takes a look at what the future holds for the region’s theatres and music venues once lockdown is finally lifted.
On March 16, Boris Johnson advised the public not to go to pubs, theatres and clubs as he urged people against non-essential travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, theatres and music venues across the country shut their doors with immediate effect, yet the prime minister not enforcing an outright ban left the events community in limbo and unable to access insurance cover.
It was heartbreaking for staff who work tirelessly to schedule shows and Stephen Crocker, the chief executive at Norwich Theatre Royal, found himself in the unenviable position of having to tell people who had already arrived for the evening’s Les Misérables performance that it wouldn’t go ahead as the government announcement came so late.
It became a Catch-22 for venues as they had closed to ensure the safety of their customers, but equally were left with a lack of financial support.
Thankfully a few days later, on March 20, they were instead ordered to shut and Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced the furlough scheme where staff can get 80pc of their wages.
The past two months have been incredibly tough for theatre and music venue staff who have worked around the clock to arrange refunds for cancelled shows and reschedule hundreds of events, liaising with countless promoters and producers.
When venues are finally allowed to reopen there is no doubt that shows and gigs will not be the same for a long time.
Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of shows such as Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, recently told Michael Ball on Radio 2 that theatres won’t be able to reopen “until social distancing doesn’t exist anymore”.
While Boris Johnson’s roadmap of easing lockdown includes the hospitality industry opening up from July, this is unlikely to include theatres and music venues as by their nature they involve people being in close proximity to each other.
An almost empty auditorium is a nightmare for theatre staff but it could become the new norm if they did open in the next few months.
They would need to leave a few seats between each customer, the number depending on the latest guidance on how many metres people need to be apart, and music venues would have limited capacity.
Yet what makes live theatre and music so great is the atmosphere, which comes from a large audience, and if they were to reopen it would also cause a huge increase in ticket prices.
A lot of the touring shows that come to the Theatre Royal and Ipswich Regent have large casts and they would need to follow guidelines too which would create huge logistical problems.
While the end of the year, hopefully in time for panto season, or early 2021 seems most likely, what is clear is that there is going to be even more focus on online performances and workshops in the meantime.
This can be seen already with venues such as Red Rose Chain Theatre Company, based in Ipswich, doing live play readings and The Brickmakers music venue and pub in Norwich launching a radio station.
The Brickmakers is one of four places in Norfolk and Suffolk that has teamed up with the Music Venues Trust to launch a Crowdfunder campaign as they are all at risk of closure due to the pandemic.
The other three are The Walnut Tree Shades, also in Norwich, The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds and the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich.
While the money raised so far is a positive step forward, this is only a temporary fix and long-term closure must be met with further government support.
Whatever the future may hold, one thing is for sure - the events community is incredibly resilient and will continue to adapt.
In return, make sure to keep supporting your local venues during these unprecedented times and buy tickets when they finally reopen.
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