Birmingham Hippodrome’s Post-COVID Redundancies: A Reflection Of Things To Come For British Theatre?

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Photo Credit: birminghamhippodrome.com

Yesterday, the government announced new lockdown measures for from the 4th July, however theatres like the Birmingham Hippodrome will remain closed.

The Birmingham Hippodrome made a statement earlier this month, announcing that many of its full-time employees may lose their jobs as the 120-year-old national treasure fights to survive while social distancing measures are still in place.

Actor and Visitor Services Assistant at the Birmingham Hippodrome for almost three years, Matthew Fitzgerald (24) spoke to us about the redundancies: “I was shocked but not surprised.

“It’s a horrible balance between expenditure and income, but I am excited to see how dynamic theatre will be in order to overcome the challenges that it now faces.”

Photo Credit: Matthew Fitzgerald, Actor and Vistor Services Assistant at Birmingham Hippodrome

Mr Fitzgerald laughs: “What I wouldn’t give to be back dealing with customers again, I am never going to complain about carrying a three-course meal and burning my hands ever again.

“It’s becoming a huge daunting reality that we may be facing a year where there is no Christmas pantomime across the country.”

For those not local to the Midlands, Birmingham Hippodrome is one of the busiest multi-stage theatres in Britain, welcoming around 500,000 visitors in an average year.

The theatre offers outreach programmes throughout the year for local children and emerging artists, and shares a site with DanceXchange, a Birmingham based dance organisation.

Fiona Allan, artistic director and CEO in a statement said: “This [the Coronavirus outbreak] has led to the very difficult and heart-breaking conclusion that we need to scale back areas of the business and significantly reduce our team size.

Photo Credit: enjoysouthside.co.uk

“It is with great sadness to confirm that Birmingham Hippodrome has entered a period of redundancy consultations as a direct result of prolonged business closure due to the COVID-19 Global Crisis.”

Ms Allan, who is also chair of the West Midlands Tourism Board, has teamed up with West Midlands’s mayor (Andy Street) and chair of the West Midlands Cultural Leadership Board and CEO of Coventry City of Culture (Martin Sutherland). Together, they have written a letter to UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Oliver Dowden) asking for the West Midlands to be used as a pilot area to test reopening the tourism, hospitality and culture sector before the rest of the country.

Street said: “We believe we have a unique opportunity to re-establish the sector as a key economic driver in the region’s post-Covid-19 recovery.”

Photo Credit: birminghammail.co.uk

The Birmingham Hippodrome prides itself on making theatre accessible to all, but with social distancing measures in place, it is a wonder how audience members with visual or auditory impairments will be supported to enjoy a performance safely.

With a bleak future for theatres on the horizon, and depressing talk of a second wave in the pandemic, theatres across the country- such as the Birmingham Hippodrome- are going to have to find new ways of engaging with audiences online, perhaps through recorded performances.

One thing is for sure though: we can always rely on the creative industry to get creative with its solutions to such difficulties.

Words by Mhari Aurora.

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