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Our theatre community is defined by what it does do, rather than what it does not

Some thoughts as a turbulent winter season presses on

The Rhythmics
© Alex Brenner

The optimism of early summer seems like a lifetime ago as we move into what could become a nightmare before Christmas.

It was meant to be the most wonderful time of the year – after a crumby 2020 season, we were all looking forwards to a bumper festive season with a wealth of stage gems (panto or otherwise) on offer. As everyone will already know – this hasn't turned out to be the case.

While a variety of top-class performances are still going up night after night, enchanting mask-wearing, NHS pass-sporting audience members across the nation, many shows, from two-handers to two-thousand-seat dazzlers have been brought down by Covid infections. We need not list them here – those who have been affected will no doubt have been contacted by now.

Back in March 2020, when a lot younger, more optimistic and, arguably, naive, I wrote a list of ways to help theatres through the pandemic. Most things on that list still hold entirely true – give them a check here. But I wanted to add some further tips:

– If you're forced to isolate due to Covid, first of all – rest assured that box office staff will have no hesitation in rescheduling your seats to make sure your tickets are safely stashed away for a later date.

– Being confined to the home also doesn't mean your theatre fest has to end – a plethora of productions are live-streaming or sharing their Christmas shows online. If not, you can always go on bespoke sites like the Globe Player or National Theatre At Home to revel in plays of (relatively recent) old. You can even hop on Netflix or Disney Plus and binge in a wad of streamed stage productions there.

– As any front-of-house staff member will ask – please be patient if your show is cancelled. When it comes to cancellations, many producers will only be able to make the call mere hours before curtains rise. If your dates no longer work for whatever reason, you'll be able to save the money as credit, bag a refund or have your tickets swiftly rescheduled. Venue operators have been doing this for 20 months now – they're dab hands at it.

– If you've travelled many miles in order to see a show then, don't worry! There are so many alternative venues in cities and towns across the land, each desperate for audiences, that you'll almost definitely be able to get in somewhere else.

But to end on an optimistic note. As has been proven time and again – our theatre community is defined by what it does do, rather than what it does not. Audiences, in the main, have understood this – being empathic, supporting and excited to revel in the festive cheer. Every time this sector is knocked down, freelancers, backstage teams, PRs, performers, producers, front-of-house staff and many many more get back up and push onwards.

Want a case in point? Producer Katy Lipson, recently forced to cancel the world premiere of new musical The Rhythmics while also rehearsing in performers for the London premiere of Little Women after some absences, has six new shows opening in the coming months. That's six more teams of freelancers, more creatives getting to debut their work. Lipson is but one of dozens with the same drive and perseverance.

Admittedly, what doesn't help is that the theatre industry is saddled with a government (and a Culture Secretary) unable to commit to further financial aid or security, while simultaneously undermining national trust through mixed messaging and political infighting.

We might not have a clear impression of what's coming, but the unwavering pairing of creativity and community will carry us through whatever's on the horizon. After all – it's the unwavering link between artists and audiences that keeps this theatre world going.

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