W&BA takes a look at the Future for Theatres in our Area.
After the Prime Minister announced last week that Theatres can reopen with social distancing in place from the beginning of August, W&BA have been wondering what this will mean for some of the local venues we’ve worked with over the years. Like us, many of these venues are very small organisations who rely heavily on ticket sales to stay afloat. They are also vital creative honeypots, responsible for keeping creatives from all areas of the Arts connected both with each other and their audiences.
In June, Conservative MP and former actor Gile Watling shared his thoughts with The Guardian. “People are beginning to understand just how valuable this is, and how much in danger it is. And how historically important it is.” He shared his fears that, without government funding and guidance, many theatres across the UK are facing the prospect of shutting down.
The theatres in the Waveney and Blyth areas have been sharing their own varied experiences and plans recently, with some beginning to explore how they’re hoping to open in the coming months.
At present, The Cut in Halesworth has a series of online events scheduled, though physical events will begin again in September. The Fisher Theatre in Bungay are looking at a soft opening from September onwards too, “with local and in-house activities and events to reconnect with our community and audiences.” In the meantime, they are “planning and implementing procedures and facilities to support our safe opening in accordance with government guidance.” They’re also working with Upshoot Theatre Company who regularly produce work at the Fisher Theatre, to promote their Garden Theatre performances. These will take place in Bungay and Halesworth in mid September, with the aim of “reconnecting our community with the joys of live performance.”
Sadly, by contrast, the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft published an announcement last week, stating that, as a result of lockdown and a ‘catastrophic’ drop in their income, “we have reached the conclusion that we have no choice but to reduce our overheads and scale back our operation. We have had to make the incredibly hard decision to begin a period of redundancy consultation with our staff.” In the announcement they thanked all their supporters, including Lowestoft Town Council and the Arts Council, and assured us that “The Marina Theatre Trust remains committed to playing a key role in the cultural life of Lowestoft. We will be a different organisation when we emerge into a very different landscape, but we want to be able to offer our audiences the very best entertainment we can. As soon as we can re-open safely and economically, we will welcome back our community.” You can read the statement in full here.
Meanwhile, The Seagull Theatre have started to take small steps toward opening with their much loved ‘Memory Cafe’ for anymore living with dementia and their carers. After the first cafe event on Wednesday 15th July they wrote, “Today felt….normal and it was good. We were so pleased to welcome back our lovely families for memory cafe.” The next session will be on 29th July from 10.30am until midday. The Seagull has also been changing and updating their website, so take a look at the improvements they’ve made.
Across the opposite side of our area, The Bank in Eye have given us an uplifting update on their plans: “We are working hard in the background to come back fitter and stronger!” They’ve been running online events on Thursday evenings and have been making the most of lockdown by working out plans to become “a carbon-neutral building and influence others in our community to follow suit.” They have also partnered with Suffolk Mind to “address unmet needs in our community for those whose situation was poor before Covid-19 but worsened during shut down.”
Our ‘friendly Bank Manager’ Peter said The Bank plans to reopen on 9th Sept for their Art group and Knit & Natter Craft group. “Before then we plan to reconfigure the Main Hall to provide more flexible space by replacing the stage with a lower demountable version. The coffee station will be moved to allow one large exhibition wall. Our meeting room and office will be upgraded to accommodate private hire and space a possible resident artist.” He added “As ever, we are always seeking more participation particularly from Artists who have organisational skills, perhaps someone reading this fancies a Residency or Art Director role?” We’re excited to see all these exciting plans come to life in the future.
Further uplifting news has reached us from The Corn Hall in Diss, which has just celebrated its 10th birthday. In their newsletter, they expressed thanks to all their supporters for making donations, renewing memberships and sending messages of support.
During lockdown The Corn Hall has installed safety elements including perspex screens in the Box Office and Cafe, and multiple hand sanitiser stations. They said “We are initially planning to run many events in cabaret-style which will allow for family and household bubble groups. We’ll give more details on this soon.” Meanwhile, on 24th July until the end of August the Corn Hall is hosting a ‘Welcome Back’ exhibition. Curator David Case said “Although the Corn Hall is not fully up and running yet, we thought we would welcome our audience back with a ‘taster’ of the rescheduled shows we have coming up.” Thankfully many of the live shows which had to be cancelled have now been rescheduled. You can view their programme of events here.
We’ll be keeping an eye on how all these venues and others fair over the coming months and will continue to keep our members and our newsletter subscribers up to date.
If you are part of a local theatre venue in our area, please consider signing up as a Member Organisation. With the support of your membership, we can share your reopening plans and direct your message to our culture-interested audience in the locality. We’ll promote your events across our social media platforms and in our fortnightly newsletter.