James Haddrell: The new normal in theatre

With theatres closed once again due to Covid-19 it is easy for us as an industry to either desperately search for ways to continue what we were doing before, either online or maybe next month with socially distanced audiences, or just to cease operation until this is all over so that we can turn everything back on in 2021.

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

However, a period of enforced closure should also provide time to reflect. Maybe doing things exactly the way we did before isn’t the answer.  Maybe, when theatres reopen, we should be thinking about new ideas, new ways of presenting shows, new ways of sharing our work with our audiences.

At Greenwich Theatre, one of the questions that we have been trying to ask for years now is where the next new musicals should come from – musical theatre cannot sustain itself forever with adaptations of books, films and juke-box back catalogues – and this hiatus gives us time to revisit this.

We have hosted some major revivals over the years, and more recently have started to explore new kinds of music theatre – the a cappella harmonies of Filament Theatre, the gig theatre of Middle Child, improvised musicals from Showstoppers or Notflix – and as we look forwards there are key initiatives that promise to further challenge and diversify the source of new music theatre.

One such initiative is MTFestUK, an annual festival launched in 2019 by Paul Taylor-Mills which returns to the Turbine Theatre in February 2021.

A long-time supporter of musical theatre (and the force behind Greenwich Theatre hits Rent and Altar Boys among others), Paul said: “There’s no denying that 2020 has been an impossible year for everyone, but particularly those who are passionate about getting new work off the ground.

“When we finally come back to a ‘new normal’ it’s going to be crucial that we shine a spotlight on new work and the people that make it. With this in mind, I’m so proud that we’re able to ensure that MTFestUK returns for its third year.

“When I started the festival it was a way of putting new work in front of an audience to see if it resonated, and for writers to explore what might be practical next steps.

“I’m thrilled that out of the 17 musicals presented in our first two years, seven of them are now in further development or moving towards full-scale productions.”

While Paul continues his work at the Turbine Theatre, we are also planning our own return to new music theatre in 2021 – starting in January with the launch of a UK tour from producers leo&hyde.

A string of announcements are set for the weeks ahead, but as much as 2021 is set to be a return for theatres, I hope it ends up being more than that.

A return to operation, certainly, but not just a reopening with a sigh of relief. A return invested with a new spirit of innovation


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