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Theatremakers have moved mountains during the pandemic, and their efforts must be remembered

Some producers have moved mountains, often at great expense and in the midst of major uncertainty

The live-streamed production of Brother
© Southwark Playhouse

I've watched a lot of Marvel movies during the pandemic. Filling the long, theatre-free evenings has become difficult and sometimes you just want to watch CGI-heavy fisticuffs between green gamma radiation-fuelled monsters and purple aliens with nutsack chins.

In the blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, there's a moment (semi-spoilers), where the screen cuts to black. The words "five years later" come up and then, seconds later, we pick back up with our beleaguered heroes – checking back in after a half decade of emotional pain, guilt and loss.

For many, when theatres open back up again without social distancing, it'll be a "five years later" experience – creatives will head back to dressing rooms, orchestra pits or offices, dust off their costumes or work stations and, to glorious applause, continue as before – though with a few dark memories of a time when daily briefings and case rates were regular table talk. Before too long, shows will be wowing and enchanting thousands of punters.

But the pandemic was no "Blip" and its impact is only just beginning to be felt. There have been some disastrous consequences – polls this week found that one in four freelancers has gone out of business during the pandemic, with warnings that the freelance community will become less diverse and more elitist over the coming years. The fact that a large portion of the self-employed workforce has gone unsupported due to arbitrary eligibility criteria has been nothing short of galling.

Rhys Dennis in Black Victorians by Jeanefer Jean Charles
© Stephen Wright

Without new voices and talent in our arts community, things will stagnate. This is all the more saddening to consider when, during the pandemic, we've actually had a glimpse of that genuine innovation at play: live-streamed musicals, build-your-own-set-list concerts, real-time Zoom productions, telephone plays, immersive audio experiences, revivals on venues floating on the Thames, site-specific interactive festivals, virtual-reality CGI Shakespeare, TikTok set designs – this has been a year of boundary-pushing, rule-breaking, and technical revelation. Bearing in mind all of this has been done while the pandemic has created hoops to jump through makes it even more miraculous.

Producers have created ways to employ and entertain, often at great risk both artistically and financially. During December's fleeting period of socially distanced performances, many of the shows being presented were coming from new and emerging producers, staging work that hasn't been seen before ("Drag-atha Christie Murder Mystery" anyone?).

When the pandemic ends, we have to build on all of these efforts – standing on the shoulders of those making gigantic contributions, proving just how theatre can survive in the midst of all of this calamity. Instead of saying "no", we should always remember those who said "how?".

One of the real highlights of the pandemic was the socially distanced Black British Theatre Awards – part gig, part ceremony, the streamed experience was a roaring tribute to those creating groundbreaking work in the midst of adversity. The Awards, broadcast on Sky Arts, also reflected the opportunities that stage / screen collaboration can provide. I'm looking forwards to the 2021 Awards already.

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