While lockdown begins to ease, with markets already reopened, non-essential shops set to reopen next Monday and even zoos now given the go-ahead to welcome visitors again, those working in theatre – and those who love going to the theatre – are desperate for an indication of when performance venues may join the list of businesses permitted to resume their operations. However, it looks likely that theatres will be among the last businesses to reopen, and that even when they do the need for social distancing will make it impossible to balance the books on larger shows and lead smaller venues to work with smaller casts on perceived ‘low-risk’ titles. There are all sorts of worries around this – not least the survival of theatres themselves and a worry that writers will be frozen out while those venues that do make it through resort to reviving old favourites rather than commissioning new plays – but in the arts we’ve so often found that challenges breed creativity. Art created during times of adversity or conflict, during political uprising or in response to social injustice is often the most innovative, most powerful and most adventurous, and we are certainly living through all of those at the moment.
At Greenwich Theatre we have always celebrated that spirit of innovation. During the recession we didn’t raise prices and bring in easily recognisable shows, we slashed our prices so that everyone could afford to attend and we continued offering our stages to the newest and most daring theatre makers. Now, as we start to consider our future in both the digital world and in so-called real-life, we are once again looking to support and champion innovation.
That is why this week we are announcing Get Connected – three micro-commissions for theatre companies or artists looking to try out a new way of engaging with audiences online. We know that we are going to reopen this year and that we will be welcoming audiences back to the theatre, but even when that happens there will be people who take longer to return to the venue, and people who never could attend, and we want to take the lessons learnt during this period into a new era of theatre in Greenwich, creating added-value for those who attend and a new kind of theatrical experience for those who don’t.
We are currently running Greenwich Connects, our far-reaching online engagement programme of streamed shows, artist challenges and industry advice, but we are far from knowing everything about working online – and that is true of this industry as a whole. We are therefore looking to invest in those people whose vision may seem outlandish but who want to try a radical new way of using a digital platform to engage, inform or entertain people. Maybe the future of online theatre is a version of Pokémon Go which takes place around a city, or maybe it brings a city into people’s homes, maybe it turns Instagram users into players in a theatrical game or Twitter users into microscopic playwrights – or hopefully, it is something that we haven’t even thought of.
Anyone with a burning idea but without the resources to try it out should visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk for more information and to apply for Get Connected, and with any luck we will uncover a glimpse of our theatrical future.
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