As the government introduces more restrictions to curb the increase in Coronavirus cases, the hospitality industry has been hit by a 10pm curfew. However with the theatre industry exempt from this, the government won’t ”bring around a cloud to rain on” our parade.
Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, the government have continued to put more restrictions in place, with the UK being in Stage 4 of the five-stage plan. Unlike the hospitality industry, this curfew doesn’t include theatres.
With social distancing measures still in place, at least the curfew isn’t another barrier to the theatre industry reopening. When the first restrictions were introduced, Andrew Lloyd Webber particularly felt these barriers, expressing that: “I mean, every time you think you’ve made a step forward – and on the theatre front I genuinely think we were making a step forward because I think the argument was being accepted – you get another thing happening”.
The idea behind the new curfew is to curb nightlife in major cities, however it’s this sort of nightlife that the theatre industry doesn’t attract. Any theatre-goer will tell you how they feel about theatre etiquette, so the atmosphere of a busy bar or pub is nowhere near comparable to the escapism of a theatre.
The industry has already made huge leaps forward seeing the opening of socially-distanced shows. Even though most performances aren’t able to fully run with these kind of measures in place, we are finally starting to see the curtain rise.
With theatres exempt from the brand new curfew, we are also seeing more and more pop-up shows open. A production of Hair, directed by Arlene Phillips, finished at the Turbine Theatre, with the show relocating to Norwich in a couple of weeks. We have also seen more shows start to reopen their box office, with a production of Rent playing at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. Some bigger productions, such as Six, have also announced their reopening.
However, it isn’t good news for everyone within the arts industry. The new restrictions have thrown another curve ball in the way of up-and-coming talent, who use bars and pubs as a platform. These spaces usually provide a safe place for artists and performers who might not fit into the ’typical’ boxes of the arts industry; new talent are now left without being able to use these spaces to gain crucial experience.
What the government has failed to consider is the livelihood of these people. For young performers, you very rarely end up on a West End stage overnight. Now, with the loss of these smaller venues, it will become a lot harder for these individuals to be seen and heard.
With recent graduates and upcoming talent even more discouraged than when the West End went dark, could the future of theatre look even bleaker?
The new restrictions seem to have put this pressure on the West End to deliver more, with many theatres not being able to open their doors due to financial problems. It’s because of these financial issues that more popular shows have been the first to reopen. Shows like Six attract such a wide audience, which in hand brings more tourism to the UK, meaning that opening these kind of shows is the best option until Coronavirus cases decrease.
The focus has now shifted on opening shows associated with larger production companies and producers, including those from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh. However, we must not forget the smaller, independent theatres, or arts venues that take the form of pubs and bars. It’s these kind of spaces that have undoubtedly overall suffered the most, with many of them closing their doors for the foreseeable.
As the future of lockdown is uncertain, we need to continue to appreciate theatre. No matter the show, or how London-centric sometimes the industry feels, what’s important is that the building blocks are being laid at getting this industry back open. Even with the new restrictions, with our passion and determination to get the industry back, the government cannot rain on our parade.
Words by Neve Gordon-Farleigh.
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