I lost my job working in a theatre bar last Monday. Since leaving drama school, I have worked in the theatre environment for two and a half years. Not in the exact capacity I dream of, rather selling ice creams than doing the box splits on the Duke of York stage. That being said, I loved my job. I loved the secret lives of creatives serving the pints and cracking the jokes behind the bar. We were a team and I’m going to miss it hugely.
Everyone benefits from the arts. Whether it’s the Christmas treat to go to Coventry Belgrade or the dodgy one woman musical about an air hostess and her moon cup (if anyone’s done this, please link me tickets). Every single person, including the members of our government, benefit from the arts. Our work. So why is no one helping us? It’s like sending a Christmas card and being ghosted. In fact, they more than just benefit it, they rely on it. What do you do when you’re upset and need distracting? If you’re me, it’s a pint and Todaytix £10 seats at the back. So listen to us.
There is a huge, I repeat huge network of people behind the stage creating theatre. Writers, directors, casting directors, stage managers, sound operators, sound designers, lighting designers, costume departments, theatre marketing teams, development teams, bar and kitchen staff, waiters, ushers etc etc etc. There is a large amount of people currently not sleeping because they don’t know where the next pay cheque is going to come. If it can.
Side note: It is obviously heart breaking for theatre performers also at the moment. It’s heartbreaking to see on Twitter how many West End performers have just been told their next stage appearance will be in 2021. For performers a lot of the work happens off stage in classes, warm ups in public toilets on the way to auditions, a constant effort to keep up ones practise. So the legends who have to wait six months to get back to Hamilton or Wicked etc, I’m incredibly sorry. I too have been affected as a performer with my show being rescheduled for next year.
However, it is the people who help the magic happen off stage who are also in dire need of help. It’s the smaller, less established theatres who pride themselves on a ‘risky’, ‘daring’ programme who need the help. And will need it for the foreseeable future. I am worried where theatre is heading. Theatres which seek out new, diverse, unheard voices, I can only imagine will be faced with the decision of getting bums on seats with an established (let’s face it, male writer) or keeping up their ambition of launching unheard voices. Decisions will be more financially driven than an ethos-led. This is an assumption, she says shyly from the back.
This can all, obviously, be helped with a lovely huge cash injection from the Government, to ensure theatres can keep up furloughing staff. However, even if B.J. decides to dig deep, what are the practicalities of ‘safe’ theatre? The concept of social distancing in an audience is equivalent to a huge headless cow cartwheeling through a vegan cafe. Quite disturbing. Programmes which work hard to break down barriers between audience members, will their barriers all of a sudden have to go back up? I was in Tesco the other day in a face mask and farted in the yoghurt section. When I laughed, to myself, I inhaled my face mask and this big cloudy breath fogged up my glasses. I looked like a fool. So what will happen to comedies if laughing in face masks is so hard?
I nearly fell through the floor when I saw an article titled “Andrew Lloyd Webber says government suggested musicals return ‘without any singing’.” Imagine robbing Vincent Van Gough of his paintbrush – would he start finger painting? Making pasta shell creations of the Queen (shout out to my year 3 pasta queen.) It seems, at the moment, there is just an avalanche of bad news for the theatre industry. But! I see hope.
We are creatives. There were creatives in the caveman age, banging twigs on rocks, telling stories. Theatre and prostitution are some of the oldest industries around. Prostitution has no relevance to this, just a cool fact. If we could create theatre when the light bulb didn’t exist. Then we can create theatre, in inventive, and perhaps, more accessible ways. Outdoor theatre, smaller capacity theatre and situational theatre are all options which a) could be cheaper to ticket thus more inclusive for low income audience members, b) more compelling and interesting to watch c) won’t be shut down by policemen and d) really exciting to create.
I see light at the end of the tunnel I really do. And for new writers and actors coming out of drama school, there is a way out of this. And we all have to sit tight, keep creating and when the doors open, roar very loudly and fiercely. We will be back!!
By Julia Grogan