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Seaside theatre plans to stage a comeback as it moves past ‘the Interval’

PUBLISHED: 07:05 13 August 2020

The London Mozart Players, who will perform a fundraising concert at Mannington Hall on August 22, to benefit Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: SLT

The London Mozart Players, who will perform a fundraising concert at Mannington Hall on August 22, to benefit Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: SLT

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Sheringham Little Theatre director DEBBIE THOMPSON writes about the venue’s post-lockdown future – and how you can help make sure it survives.

Staff at Sheringham Little Theatre's The Hub cafe are again serving up to treats to visitors. Picture: SLTStaff at Sheringham Little Theatre's The Hub cafe are again serving up to treats to visitors. Picture: SLT

The theatre world has coined a nickname for Lockdown. The Interval.

The problem is that we don’t know how long it is going to last, so we can ring the bell and usher people back inside our auditorium to enjoy live entertainment.

I have working been in the theatre world for 30 years, and Sheringham Little Theatre for 18, and seen various ups and downs but nothing like this.

So how has the Little Theatre been coping? And what are we planning as we, like the rest of the world, faces this uncertain future?

Mannington Hall, which will host an outdoor fundraising concert for Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: SLTMannington Hall, which will host an outdoor fundraising concert for Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: SLT

Well it has been tough for a venue more used to hosting comedies than tragedies.

Since we closed the doors on March 14 we have postponed more than 100 shows.

No shows means no income, so difficult decisions have been made.

Staff have been furloughed.

Sheringham Little Theatre -  like practically all theatres in the UK - is suffering financially due to the lockdown. Picture: SLTSheringham Little Theatre - like practically all theatres in the UK - is suffering financially due to the lockdown. Picture: SLT

Some have sadly been made redundant as we reshape the business for what looks like a leaner short to medium term future. That’s always horrible, and it’s even harder in small teams where everyone works so closely together.

Careful housekeeping of our funds has given us a kitty to keep us through rainy days such as this. But we didn’t expect quite such a downpour, so we have been seeking help.

Our plight has been eased by £45,000 worth of grants and financial assistance from central and local government as well as the Arts Council – so thanks to everyone who builds up that fund through buying National Lottery tickets!

And, with no light at the end of the tunnel just yet, we are continuing to apply for extra funds.

Young actors Jodie Weller, Tilda Fassih and Katie Thompson. Picture: SLTYoung actors Jodie Weller, Tilda Fassih and Katie Thompson. Picture: SLT

Regular supporters of the Little Theatre have been marvellous. Many have gifted or postponed ticket refunds to help our cash flow. We are seeking donations too – which can be made through a donate button on our website, or in a collection box in the now reopened Hub café bar.

Serving up coffee, cakes, scones and sandwiches again has been a welcome first “baby step” back to normality – though the “new normal” means fewer seats, restricted menus, cashless payment, track and trace form filling and Perspex screens.

But it is bringing some money in again – and more importantly it is welcoming back our customers.

We are a community arts venue, positioned literally in the heart of the town, so we don’t like having our doors closed. The sound of chatter is starting to return – but when it comes to our arts offering, we continue to operate with one arm tied behind our back, as well as a mask on our face.

Sheringham Little Theatre director Debbie Thompson. Picture: SLTSheringham Little Theatre director Debbie Thompson. Picture: SLT

Movie screenings are being revived – but with just 50 of our 160 seats available to book.

Government guidelines on the distance between performers and the audience means any live shows would only be able to have 30 people in the audience. That makes staging shows impossible, impractical and uneconomic.

It has been a particularly hard pill to swallow this year, as we should now be in the midst of our 60th anniversary summer drama season – but alas the diamond celebrations are postponed to 2021.

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Summer repertory is one of our main income generators, as is the panto – and work is going on behind the scenes to see how we can safely stage some festive fun and frolics. Oh yes we are.

But, coming back to the present, the show must go on as the saying goes. And if we cannot provide entertainment indoors we are aiming to do it outdoors.

On August 22 at Mannington Hall, the London Mozart Players will perform with some of the Little Theatre’s young actors in a programme of music and words focusing on the positive experiences and emotions to emerge in lockdown.

And a positive for us is that it will raise funds for the theatre.

Another positive is the way volunteers have been helping the theatre during lockdown.

Our trustee board members have been getting hands on to help with a range of tasks from DIY to social media. And some of our café volunteers have been given the reason and confidence to venture out when they were initially reluctant.

It is the kind of mutual help that goes on in families in times of crisis. And the Little Theatre family is no different.

No-one knows what the coming weeks and months will bring – with the situation changing seemingly daily. But rest assured the Little Theatre is working hard behind the scenes to bring the arts and entertainment back to North Norfolk as soon as it is safe. And we have been actively putting content online, such as snippets from previous summer dramas recreated by actors on our Facebook page.

For updates on upcoming events please follow social media channels or visit our website www.sheringhamlittletheatre.com


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