‘Wantonly disrespectful’ - Five step plan for return of live performances slammed by Theatre Royal boss

Norwich Theatre chief executive Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Norwich Thea

Norwich Theatre chief executive Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Norwich Theatre - Credit: Archant

Government plans for the phased return of live performances have been branded ‘wantonly disrespectful’ by the CEO of Norfolk’s biggest theatre.

Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, announced the government’s “road map” for resuming live shows on Thursday, June 25.

Entertainment venues in Norfolk and Waveney have been set back millions of pounds during lockdown as one of the sectors worst hit by the pandemic.

Though no specific dates or plans for a financial package have been mentioned, Dowden has now revealed five-point plan for how live shows can make their return.

MORE: ‘We are falling off a cliff edge’ - County’s theatres fear collapse after losing millions

Screen grab of Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Oliver Dowden during a media briefing in Downing

Screen grab of Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Oliver Dowden during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photo: PA - Credit: PA

The first two stages are already possible, with physically distanced rehearsal and training with no audiences, and physically distanced performances for broadcast and recording purposes.

But as lockdown continues to ease, the next steps would be for allowing outdoor performances “with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience”.

Some time after that, performances would be allowed both indoors and outdoors with limited distanced audiences, before the final phase of performances allowed with fuller indoor audiences.

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But theatre bosses say without specific dates, or financial aide, a number of key issues remain.

Stephen Crocker, CEO of the Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “This is like the time at school when I hadn’t revised for a test and I wrote meaningless answers just to say something.

“Except the consequence there was detention for me not the decimation of an industry. This is not good enough - theatres need dates and timescales.”

MORE: Theatres still facing uncertain futures over ‘bizarre’ live show ban

Across the region, five out of six of the most loved theatres we surveyed said they were “deeply concerned” for the financial and cultural impacts if theatres remain closed for more than six months.

And nationally, around 70pc of theatres have warned they will run out of cash by the end of the year.

Stephen Crocker added that the plans are “wantonly disrespectful”, showing a “massive disregard for the value of our sector and an extraordinary lack of understanding”.

He concluded: “It’s just not good enough and I doubt elite sport would have stood for it. We need ‘no earlier than’ dates, timescales and a financial support package.”

So what are the key issues facing our region’s entertainment spaces?

Live performances in front of an audience have not been able to take place since lockdown measures were introduced in March. Since then, more than 80pc of theatres in our region have said they are “deeply concerned” about the financial and cultural repercussions of being closed for longer than six months.

The Norwich Theatre Royal and Playhouse lost more than £7.2m between the beginning of lockdown and the beginning of June, and smaller theatres are also concerned they are on the brink of collapse.

In fact as much as 90pc of grassroots venues across the country face permanent closure by the end of September, according to a survey by the Music Venues Trust, and many of the country’s largest venues are laying off staff and beginning redundancy consultations because of costly overheads.

What are the next steps?

So far the government has announced theatres can reopen from July 4, though they can only be used for rehearsals or broadcasting performances. And all staff have been eligible for the furlough schemes and loans.

Oliver Dowden said the next three stages of the plan to reopen theatres will depend on what public health advice the government receives going forward.

However, echoing the concerns of Stephen Crocker, other industry bosses like Julian Bird, chief executive of UK Theatre said more information is needed about when the different stages of the plan will be used.o

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