Theatrical COVID recovery will come sooner for some

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

To suggest that this is a tough time for theatres would be like suggesting that the depletion of the ozone layer isn’t really ideal for icebergs. However, there is a tendency in the media to report the boldest, most sensational aspect of a story, and the risk is that the headlines then become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, has announced that they are working on a series of models for reopening, including one which sees the venue closed until next Spring – so that becomes both the headline and the public understanding of the facts. Theatres will not reopen this year.

The public then become resigned to that fact and do not book tickets, so it is then not viable to open before next Spring anyway, so the headline becomes the truth, even if the rest of the story about the National Theatre explored models for reopening in September or November.

It is important, therefore, for those of us who are working to a different timeline to make that very clear. Greenwich Theatre will reopen this autumn. The programme will look very different to a regular season at our venue, and the building will be used in a different way to ensure that audiences, staff and performers are all safe, but we will be open – and our box office will open well before that, with tickets available online for some productions already.

It is clearly the case that we can do this because the running costs of the shows we are likely to present will not be prohibitive. A show like The Lion King or Hamilton will need to play to a high audience percentage to cover its costs, so with social distancing in place it may not be viable to reopen the show, but for us we can programme creatively and welcome our audiences safely back through the doors.

With many artists contemplating a bleak future, one of the most positive conversations I have had in the last few weeks has been with composer Chris Green. Originally commissioned by English Heritage, Chris has written a new score for the silent film Nosferatu – arguably the first ever horror film and the first cinematic interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Chris has the rights to tour and perform the score to accompany screenings of the film, but it was beginning to look as though the score would remain unperformed for the rest of the year. That is now not the case with a screening and live accompaniment, performed by Chris himself, set to take place at Greenwich Theatre in October.

What the theatre industry needs right now, more than anything else, is public confidence and an understanding that what is right for one venue is not necessarily right for another. Large scale shows may not be viable until venue managers can sell the majority of the seats, and that may be next year, but when presenting other productions (and many smaller shows can be just as impactful and arguably more adventurous than a major West End musical) theatres are able to be creative. We can reimagine the way we present our shows, the way we run our bars and box offices, and the way we work with artists. Some venues may not open until 2021, but theatre will return to Greenwich this autumn and I can’t wait to welcome audiences back to the venue.

 


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