One year on: Theatre marks a year of shutdown

A host of big names are helping to raise awareness of the hardship many in the industry are facing

Chiwetel Ejiofor shows his support for the Theatre Artists Fund
Chiwetel Ejiofor shows his support for the Theatre Artists Fund

The UK theatre industry is reflecting today (16 March) on a year since it had to close its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The anniversary comes as a new survey from the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) reveals that over 95% of theatre organisations are worse off due to the pandemic, while one in four freelancers are currently out of business.

Stars including Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Jackman, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Michaela Coel have supported the Theatre Artists Fund's #16March campaign to raise awareness and money to help those affected.

Director Sam Mendes, who co-founded the Theatre Artists Fund, said: "The immense level of support for the #16March Theatre Artists Fund campaign illustrates that while theatres may be closed, the spirit of the theatre community is well and truly alive."

As part of the campaign, a range of big names including Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Michaela Coel and Elaine Paige have recorded videos discussing their career 'turning point' – you can watch one of the films below.

Hope is on the horizon for the industry following the government's recent roadmap announcement. The SOLT survey shows that 83% of venues are planning to restart trading from 21 June – the date named by the Prime Minister as the earliest for an end to all restrictions – but many are dependent on creation of government-backed theatre insurance scheme.

Of the 186 theatre organisations who answered a question about financial loss due to Covid, 53 reported a loss of over £1million each – including 16 organisations who have lost over £5million each. The total loss of 165 organisations able to provide figures is estimated at nearly £200m so far.

SOLT chief executive Julian Bird said: "At that fateful moment a year ago when we were forced to close theatres, we could never have imagined that venues would remain closed today. It has been a year of incredible challenges.

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with Government and industry partners, welcoming audiences safely back into theatres and playing a part in the national economic and social recovery."

Trafalgar Theatre illuminated red
Trafalgar Theatre illuminated red

Elsewhere, Trafalgar Entertainment is working alongside campaign group We Make Events to mark the week of 16 March by illuminating its newly renovated Trafalgar Theatre in red. And the Old Vic has released a video celebrating some of the work it has made remotely in the past year:

Matthew Warchus, artistic director of the Old Vic, said: "The theatre industry has had a severely bruising year but what hasn't dimmed is its eagerness to step up and play its crucial role in rebuilding live connections and shared experiences. Delivering uplifting and mind-expanding stories, in a safe and joyful way, after more than a year dominated by separation, fear, anger and sadness, is utterly vital and it's something we can't wait to resume."