Cancellation of the arts due to the pandemic

By James Haddrell

Less than two months ago I wrote here about the huge importance of theatre festivals in supporting the stars of the future.

During the pandemic a lot of attention has been given to high profile shows – the amount of money lost and number of employees affected – but while West End closures grab headlines (and as an industry we need to be in the headlines right now), there will often be enough capacity for those major industry players to weather the storm and recoup their losses in the future.

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

That is certainly not the case for a lot of emerging artists, many of whom will have considered leaving or have left the industry over the past two years.

My last piece on this subject was a celebration of one of the biggest opportunities for emerging artists in this country – the now 10-year-old Vault Festival, presented in the tunnels under Waterloo railway station.

With a programme of 600 shows, the return of the festival this spring seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the pandemic, or at least a reduction in its negative impact on the arts.

Good audiences were far from guaranteed, and logistically there will have been countless additional health and safety measures necessary to make the festival possible, but hundreds of companies and artists would get the chance to share their work.

This week, however, the festival has been cancelled.

As a consequence of the challenges presented by the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and its rapid spread across the capital, the festival organisers have been forced to take the hardest decision for any of us in the arts and close the doors.

Over Christmas, at Greenwich Theatre, we had to cancel two weeks of our annual pantomime, so I understand the lengths to which the team at Vault will have gone to in order to try and salvage the programme.

For us, we lost the two most lucrative weeks of the entire year, representing around 20 per cent of our annual turnover.

The Vault Festival

That was painful enough, but Vault Festival lost its whole 2022 programme, and now hundreds of artists and producers are hitting the phones and flooding social media with shows looking for a home.

Along with a number of venues we have offered to host cancelled shows in the few gaps we have in the season, but the curse of Covid throughout the pandemic for us in theatre has been the last-minute decision making that it creates.

Six months ago we could have shared the Vault programme among venues around the country and no show would have been homeless. Now, venues are struggling for space and so much work is going to go unseen.

I just hope that audiences can reach out and support the work that does survive at one of the many venues that have stepped in.

There will be some missing from this list, as the situation continues to evolve, but check the programmes at Waterloo East Theatre, Barons Court, the Lion and Unicorn, the Hope Theatre, the Rosemary Branch Theatre, Golden Goose Theatre, the Drayton Arms and Chiswick Playhouse this season and you’re likely to uncover one of the gems that should have been seen at Vault Festival this year.

Main Pictured: Speed Dial by Spies Like Us – one of hundreds of shows cancelled at this year’s Vault Festival




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