The award-winning Barn Theatre in Cirencester deserves a special award for the way it has managed to not only stage a play actually inside the auditorium, but make the audience first feel safe and then forget the safety measures around them.
Private Peaceful, based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, is an adaptation by Simon Reade with direction by Alexander Knott. The creative team also includes Zöe Grain as Associate Director & Movement Director with lighting design by Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner and sound design by Harry Smith.
The play is being staged at The Barn Theatre until September 27th and if you read no further down this story, please read this: If there is a theatre open near you, please support it.
The Barn Theatre was kind enough to give Nicky Godding, the editor of Business & Innovation Magazine a free ticket. Here’s what she said:
“I wasn’t really looking forward to going. I knew the play would be brilliant – the standard of performances at The Barn Theatre is always sky high – but I absolutely HATE wearing a mask, and generally avoid as many places as possible where I have to wear one. I was also going alone (actually I don’t mind that at all, there’s generally someone I know and if there isn’t, people are always friendly) – but how would it feel when the entire audience is masked up?
“When I got there the lady on the door took my temperature (on my wrist – not my forehead as others have been doing over the last few weeks), and asked me politely to put my mask on before I went inside.
“The digital-only programme was accessed via a QR code which was easy to scan on my phone, I picked up a glass of wine and was immediately ushered into the auditorium.
“The staff had already marked out our seats, and between each ‘bubble’ was a Perspex screen to minimize infection.
“The play started on time, and it took less than ten minutes to become totally absorbed in it. The acting and staging were sublime, the whole play was a joy to watch – I forgot everything except the story unfolding in front of me. For almost an hour and a half the two actors portrayed their characters with beauty and feeling. Not once did they touch, or go within a metre of each other, but it was done so delicately that I didn’t think about that until I was driving home.
“There was no interval – I guess to reduce risk of infection, and they told the whole story in one go, a big job when there are only two of you to carry the story. It must have been strange to act to an auditorium of people wearing masks, but if it worried them – there was absolutely no sign at all.
“I forgot I was wearing a mask, and for an hour and a half I forgot about everything outside the theatre.
“The team at The Barn Theatre will have worked their socks off to achieve what others may say was impossible. It’s not, but this theatre, like many, many others, can’t survive on the smaller audiences it can accept to meet social distancing requirements. They need public support.”
Enforced cancellations and indefinite closures caused immediate financial pressures for performing arts organisations. In the first 12 weeks of lockdown, more than 15,000 theatrical performances were cancelled with a loss of more than £303 million in box office revenue. A joint submission by the representative bodies for professional theatre across the four UK nations estimates the total loss of income will be some £630 million because all theatres, including those whose funding model includes an element of public subsidy, are heavily reliant on income from ticket sales.
In addition to the loss of performance fees and box office sales, theatres and theatre companies have suffered loss of income from all associated/secondary income (including bar/restaurant/café sales, event hire fees, and theatre rental income).
There are almost 1,100 theatres in the UK, with more than half operating as charities.The Theatres Trust estimates that at the start of the outbreak approximately 35% of theatre charities held less than one month’s reserves, and 59% held less than three months’ reserves.
Julian Bird, CEO of UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre, said that 70% of theatres and production companies risk going out of business by the end of this year, and that this figure is consistent no matter where in the country they are located, or whether they operate on a subsidised or fully commercial business model.
This was echoed in evidence from Shakespeare’s Globe, which warns that “without emergency funding and the continuation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we will spend down our reserves and become insolvent”. The permanent closure of theatres in Southampton, Southport, Leicester and Bromsgrove has already been announced.
And it’s not just theatres, The Music Venue Trust estimates that 93% of the grassroots venue network faces permanent closure, with 86% of venues reporting that their core threat stems from an inability to meet commercial rent demands.
The UK’s thriving festival and live events sector has been particularly badly hit, with UK Music estimating that “90% of all festivals in 2020 will be cancelled”.
The Association of Independent Festivals says that 92% of its members face permanent collapse and 98.5% are not covered by cancellation insurance, despite having already incurred an average sunk cost of £375,000 per event.
In 2018, theatres generated ticket revenues of £1.28 billion, employed 290,000 and reached an audience of 34 million people, that’s more than go to all league football matches in a year. Live music generated gross value added of £1 billion, employed 191,000 people and reached an audience of 25 million, of which nearly five million were festival goers.
It can be hard for actors and musicians to make their case for financial support for their industry, especially if their contribution is measured alongside NHS staff, care workers, key workers and others keeping essential services going. The world won’t stop because we can’t go to the theatre or live show… right?
Yes, but life isn’t black and white. The pleasure and joy in life is diversity, and without live entertainment – music, theatre whatever is your bag, all our lives will be that much greyer, the sun won’t shine quite as brightly, and we will all be more gloomy.
So support live arts, entertainment and events. It can be done and many in the events sector are stirring and starting to fight back.