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Theatre boss reveals ‘aggressive behaviour’ towards team as 23 venues sign letter to government

PUBLISHED: 11:15 21 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:15 21 March 2020

Chief executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Theatre Royal

Chief executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Theatre Royal

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The boss of Norwich’s Theatre Royal says his team have faced aggression from customers as they work “relentlessly” to reschedule shows.

More than 20 Norfolk venues have written a letter to the government to call for more support for venues. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Panuwat Dangsungnoen.More than 20 Norfolk venues have written a letter to the government to call for more support for venues. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Panuwat Dangsungnoen.

The government has told theatres, pubs, bars, gyms and restaurants to close as part of the coronavirus outbreak response, in a bid to slow down the spread of the disease.

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of the theatre, has said his team are working “relentlessly” to reschedule show dates.

But, in a statement posted on social media, he said: “I was very disappointed earlier today to receive reports from our box office team of a very small but growing number of instances of rude and aggressive behaviour on the phone from customers, and to see a cluster of toxic comments on our social media channels.”

It comes as venues launch campaigns to make ends meet over the next few months, and more than 20 sign a letter to the government asking for greater support.

Ian Woods, Norwich Puppet Theatre manager. Mr Woods is among those who have signed the letter to the government. Picture: ANTONY KELLYIan Woods, Norwich Puppet Theatre manager. Mr Woods is among those who have signed the letter to the government. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Mr Crocker said that processing refunds costs the theatre a “significant amount of money”, partly because of its large number of customers who book in person and pay with cash, meaning they have to process and post out cheques.

He said it also involves large amounts of staff time and that the theatre incurs fees from banks and credit card companies.

He said: “Based on our experience that around 85pc of bookers for cancelled performances are happy to simply transfer to new dates, I don’t feel it’s prudent to process mas funds yet until we have further bottomed out all possibilities for rescheduling.

The Marina Theatre in Lowestoft has also joined the call. Picture: Marina TheatreThe Marina Theatre in Lowestoft has also joined the call. Picture: Marina Theatre

MORE: ‘Hardest thing I’ve had to do’ - theatre boss hits out at government over lack of coronavirus clarity



“I am happy to share that we just lost 95pc of our income going forward due to the need to shut down. In order for me to make sure that our venues can come out of this crisis, I am having to insist that we save on any non-essential costs.”

Mr Crocker said if options to reschedule were exhausted on shows, customers would be offered options to receive credit, a refund or to donate the vale of, or part of, the ticket value.

It comes as the business, which has three venues - the Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Stage Two - launches its #RefundRescue campaign, through which it hopes to encourage visitors to donate part or all of the ticket value in a bid to stay afloat.

A similar initiative, #ImagineYouveSeenIt was launched by the city’s Maddermarket Theatre earlier this week.

The Fisher Theatre in Bungay is one of the venues which has signed the letter. Picture: Nick ButcherThe Fisher Theatre in Bungay is one of the venues which has signed the letter. Picture: Nick Butcher

Meanwhile, more than 20 venues around the county have signed a letter to the government asking for more support as the outbreak continues.

The letter, written by Norwich Puppet Theatre operations manager Ian Woods on behalf of 23 other venues, says there has been a “seismic shift” in the industry.

“Arts and culture are not only a valuable income generator for the state they are invaluable for the mental wellbeing of the nation,” it says, later adding that it is likely “many of us will not be there on the other side to pick up the pieces and tell the stories of a nation that has undergone a real trauma”.

The letters calls for a review of grants and an increase in their value, immediate support for freelance performers and active support for the digital delivery of work into people’s homes.

Chris Gribble, chief executive of The National Centre for Writing. 
Picture: Nick ButcherChris Gribble, chief executive of The National Centre for Writing. Picture: Nick Butcher

The full list of signatories:

Ian Woods - Norwich Puppet Theatre

For and on behalf of:

Karen Read - Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft

You may also want to watch:

Darren France - Fisher Theatre, Bungay

Andy Naylor & Issy Huckle - Westacre Theatre

Lee Johnson - Diss Corn Hall

Emma Butler Smith - Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

Laura Rycroft - Open, Norwich

Chris Gribble - National Centre for Writing

Stephen Crocker & Caroline Richardson - Norwich Theatre

Natalie Jode - Creative Arts East

Joe Mackintosh - SeaChange Arts

Deb Lewis - Cromer Pier & Pavilion Theatre

Shaun Crowley - Beccles Public Hall and Theatre

Pasco-Q Kevlin - Norwich Arts Centre

Jack Lowe - Curious Directive

Debbie Thompson - Sheringham Little Theatre & St George’s Theatre Great Yarmouth

Alice Wright - Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Lucy Farrant - Young Norfolk Arts

Adam Taylor - The Garage, Norwich

Marcus Patteson - NORCA & Sistema in Norwich

Daniel Brine - Norfolk & Norwich Festival

Simon Daykin - Wells Maltings

Tim Bishop - The Forum, Norwich

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