Theatre looks on the bright side after 'dramatic' year
- Credit: Richard Batson/SLT
Sheringham Little Theatre director DEBBIE THOMPSON reflects on the positives that can be drawn out of 2020 for the performing arts.
Pantomime is about to play out as our “finale” in a pandemic year which has left its scars on the theatre world.
But in true showbiz tradition we are looking to shine the spotlight on the positives we can draw from an horrendous 2020.
Like most people, the enforced lockdown caused by Covid-19 provided a chance for reflection and to plan to do things differently in the “new normal” coming next year.
Thinking time is a rare luxury when you work in theatre, but it was an exciting opportunity to think about what we do and how we do it.
This year it has been great to rise to the challenge of being flexible and adaptable - such as putting events on line, where we have been keeping in touch with our supporters, and staging a few live events with social distancing when it would have been easier to just keep the doors shut.
I am used to planning and booking shows six to eight months ahead, so having to do things a month at a time because of changing and uncertain circumstances. It was different and refreshing.
Sadly we have made the difficult decision not to do our traditional summer “rep” drama season next year. We had postponed our much - awaited 60th anniversary from this year with the hope of replicating it in the summer of 2021.
But with so much uncertainty still surrounding the nature of indoor entertainment next year, we have had to future proof our planning in case we cannot fully re-open our 160-seater auditorium.
But, rest assured, we are planning a very exciting and different series of event that people can look forward to in the summer. Watch this space for more details.
Just as with our pantomime, as a community theatre we want to keep providing imaginative and safe entertainment for our audiences even in the toughest of times.
We have been refreshing and widening our programme, which included coming up with our exciting Rewriting Rural Racism project which will come to the boil next year.
Financially it has been crippling - with long closures, fewer people in the cafe, and shows for just 40 people which are not sustainable in the long term.
We need to see an end in sight.
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Two major grants are seeing us through to springtime, including a £76,000 of government culture recovery cash which is also helping us with developing and diversifying our programme.
We are glad to say our Hub café is now open again, and the staff and volunteers are getting back into the swing of things – though we could do with more volunteers to bolster our team at a time when some of our regular helpers are staying at home in their bubbles.
Our “doing different’ – a good old Norfolk trait - has already started - with this year’s panto, where rehearsals are under way, and costumes being fitted.
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It has meant contingency planning in case one of the cast tests Covid positive, which would mean instantly taking all of them out of action.
Actors are used to covering for somebody if one of the cast is taken ill, and I once had to nurse an Aladdin through a show with duvets and drinks in the wings between scenes after coaxing him from his sick bed.
But losing a complete cast requires a completely different solution, so, if the worst happens, we have a complete “spare” team waiting in the wings to take over, drawn from talented local actors, who have been rehearsing via Zoom with director Nick Earnshaw.
They are Megan Arthurton (Rapunzel), Zac Green (Prince Parp), Ollie Westlake (his agent Fantazmo), and Ellen Waite (Gruesome Gothel), who are a vital part of our planning, but like with an “insurance policy”, we hope we don’t have to use!
If you are attending any of our pantos we look forward to seeing you there. If not let me take this opportunity to wish all the Little Theatre’s supporters a merry Christmas, and our next column will be able to share some of the shows coming up early in the New Year.