Theatre bosses fear they will be shut for the rest of the year
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Theatre and entertainment bosses fear venues in Norfolk and Waveney will not reopen to live audiences until 2021.
Hundreds of shows and screenings across the region have already been postponed or cancelled as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
And, as the government prepares to reveal its “roadmap” out of lockdown later this week, theatres, cinemas and gig venues are expected to reopen last of all.
Concerns for the wider industry have been raised by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who said there could be no planning for the reopening of theatres while social distancing measures remained active.
Speaking to Michael Ball on BBC Radio 2, the esteemed theatre producer said: “For major producers both sides of the Atlantic, the truth is until social distancing doesn’t exist any more, we can’t even plan to reopen.
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“We will be back, but we need time to get back. If we don’t hear [about lockdown being lifted] in a few weeks, I think the truth is we won’t be able to come back until early next year. I think that’s quite clear.
“We want the audience to feel safe, and we want the actors to feel safe. The longer it is until we can say social distancing is gone, the longer it’ll be for the theatre to come back.”
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While performances in London’s West End have been cancelled until at least May 31, the current picture is less clear in Norfolk and Waveney.
So just how soon do those in the industry think theatre, cinema and entertainment venues think they might realistically reopen? And is there any feasibility in practicing social distancing?
Stephen Crocker, chief executive at Norwich Theatre Royal
“The overriding message from me is that we just don’t know what’s going to happen and we are planning for a variety of scenarios.
“This week is going to be crucial because the new government advice will allow us to adapt our planning.
“When it comes to social distancing there are three things to consider, the first being would people actually want to come to the theatre with those restrictions?
“The second issue is entirely operational. How do you get people into the theatre, and what happens when someone needs to get past someone in their row to go to the toilet?
“The third thing is the economics. Our bigger shows are intended to play to four-figure audiences and the sums are based upon that. You have to question whether it is economically viable.”
Peter Jay, owner of Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’re doing to be able to do at least something this year - we are just waiting on Boris’ word.
“One of our problems is that most of our acts come from abroad. This year we had people coming from Australia, France and Chile, so it’s a matter of whether they can get here as well.
“I think there is probably a way of places opening with social distancing. I think it could be done as things ease down, when the situation is not quite as strict as it is at the moment.
“It’s still two months before we would have opened, so we will have to see what happens.”
Rick Lennox, live music manager at Epic Studios, Norwich
“We have an autumn schedule at Epic but we’re playing it by ear and we fully expect to have to reschedule even more shows.
“Lots of our events have been moved until next year but for the rest of 2020 we will have to wait and see just like everyone else.
“It’s nervous times for all the venues in the country and sadly we’ve already lost one in Norwich. At this moment in time I couldn’t say when we can start running events again.”
Peter Thatcher, chairman of Connaught Hall, Attleborough
“We are really suffering with what is going on. We’re finding it very hard because we’re a charity and our only income is through venue hire and the bar.
“I’ve just had to reschedule an event which was supposed to be happening in June and we’d sold a hell of a lot of tickets. That will now be happening in November if things are back to normal.
“We’re moving events to the end of the year on a fingers crossed basis. Personally I cannot see anything happening before Christmas, to be honest.
“Pubs could maybe open later in the year, but for us - with our events and functions - it is impossible to have social distancing in place.”
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