Theatre and gig bosses reveal plans to reopen region’s entertainment venues

From top to bottom, left to right: Rick Lennox, music manager at Epic Studios, EDP entertainment edi

From top to bottom, left to right: Rick Lennox, music manager at Epic Studios, EDP entertainment editor Louisa Baldwin, Debbie Thompson, director of Sheringham’s Little Theatre, Bungay-based performer and poet Luke Wright, EDP and Norwich Evening News Editor David Powles, Stephen Crocker, chief executive of the Norwich Theatre Royal and Playhouse, Brian Hallard, director at Hunstanton’s Princess Theatre, Anna Mudeka, musician and festival organiser, and Paul Ingleby, promoter at VMS Live and the UEA LCR. Photo: Zoom - Credit: Archant

Following an effort for the region’s entertainment venues to unite, industry experts have revealed plans for how and when they can reopen.

During a debate on the future of Norfolk and Waveney’s entertainment venues, hosted on Friday July 12 by EDP and Norwich Evening News editor David Powles, industry experts including performers and those who manage the spaces to put on their shows took questions and shared intentions for getting the region’s artistic and cultural world back up and running.

In the hour-long Zoom discussion which traversed topics from social distancing to tax relief and government support, now available to listen to as a podcast, those most involved in the region’s creative sphere came up with an eight-point plan for what the industry needs to once again thrive.

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

With an audience of 78 people concerned about the industry’s future, experts laid bare their struggles, concerns, as well as plans for reopening.

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

55pc of the debate’s audience were concerned a quarter or half of venues will shut because of Covid-19, and 13pc believed more than half may have to close their doors for good.

This concern was backed by theatre royal CEO Stephen Crocker, who called for government support, and said: “It’s like doing a jigsaw, throwing it in the air, and trying to do it again without the box.

“It’s a scary time, as it isn’t clear whether we can distance. We simply can’t add to our losses.”

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Only 37pc of the audience believed venues could open this year, compared to 49pc who feared they may not until 2021.

Debbie Thompson, director of Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: Richard Batson

Debbie Thompson, director of Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: Richard Batson - Credit: Archant

But a number of our panel disagreed, with Brian Hallard of Hunstanton’s Princess Theatre saying “people are wanting to come in and wanting to see shows”, with the theatres’ cinema and bar terrace possibly opening this summer.

READ MORE: We can’t mask the damage this virus is causing to our region’s theatres

On the issue of social distancing, 41pc of our audience believe live events could support separated crowds, though 31pc believed it was “all or nothing”.

Performer Luke Wright said it would be “depressing to play to a distanced audience” though “I will have to as I need to pay my mortgage”.

The Theatre Royal at Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Theatre Royal at Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

But UEA LCR promoter Paul Ingleby said: “For us it’s all or nothing. Distancing is difficult [...] and it’s a waiting game.”

You can listen to the full discussion here or by searching ‘EDP Daily’ on your preferred listening app.

During the debate on the future of entertainment, our expert panel pulled together an eight-point action plan for supporting venues:

1. Safeguard our venues

Rick Lennox of Epic Studios called for the safeguarding of venues until “coronavirus has disappeared”.

He said: “We really just want our staff and customers to be safe. How we operate a venue of 300 or 700 at a third or quarter capacity successfully is a challenge. For smaller venues [distancing] doesn’t answer the whole question, so we need to be safe.”

READ MORE: Region will lose half of its theatres within a year without support, venues warn

2. State intervention

Many of those on the panel shared the belief that the government ought to support venues.

Poet and performer Luke Wright said: “All we can do is stick on plasters, so it’s important the state intervenes to incentivise venues to open, and to a point of financial viability. We need help or half of venues will close by Easter.”

3. Raise our voice

Musician Anna Mudeka said: “We need performers and musicians to unite and make more noise. All I’ve heard from the government is about football, of course I like football but I love theatre and music and we need to push hard.”

4. Note specific challenges

Theatre royal chief executive Stephen Crocker said: “Theatres are in a unique position as the first to shut and probably the last to open. Being in that unique position we need a unique intervention.”

5. Extend furlough

Paul Ingleby, UEA LCR promoter, said: “Currently furlough gets us to August or October. But venues will go from just about surviving to not being able to. These next few months are critical.”

READ MORE: Latitude boss reveals plan for pubs and music venues to reopen at full capacity

6. Test attendees

EDP entertainment editor Louisa Baldwin supported ideas lauded by the organiser of Latitude festival, saying: “testing people before they get into venues is worth exploring.”

7. Lower taxes

Brian Hallard of Hunstanton’s Princess Theatre said: “We need to keep furlough going, drop value added tax to five per cent, and drop social distancing to one metre.”

8. Work together

Debbie Thompson of Sheringham’s Little Theatre concluded: “Long-term we must keep positive and be flexible. It’s important how venues across the counties have worked together, and we must keep talking and sharing resources.”

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