Having reviewed the information as updated, we wanted to set out, for clarity, how this will affect us.
For the time being, we will not be returning to live shows in physical spaces (though once it is safe and possible, we will be back with bells on!) and will be continuing to focus on our Autumn “Virtual season” and while we will regularly review the situation whenever new information and guidance comes out, we are not expecting a return to live physical performances until at least the awaited announcements from the British Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, expected in November 2020.
This decision is for a number of reasons.
- Our actors earnings are usually based on the ticket sales (profitshare), and a lower number of seats available for sale, means less earning potential for our cast and crew. Venues also often rely on sales of refreshments etc, to fund the venue, aside from the hire/ box office split, so it is also difficult for a lot of our regional venues right now.
- Furthermore, while here in Devon, we are in a relatively safe area with lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, our shows do tour, including to venues outside of the area, some of which do have higher rates of infection. We would be very remiss in exposing our cast and crew to these higher-infection rates, or risking one or more of us bringing it back to family and friends.
- A lot of venues, especially older Victorian or earlier buildings (some of our venues go back to buildings from the 1600s and 1700s), do not easily allow for recommended social distancing back/ sidestage, in what is often a quite cramped area.
- A number of our regular venues have taken the decision to be closed until the New Year.
- Rehearsals still need to take place with social distancing in place, either 2 metres radius between people, or 1 metre with masks/ PPE. Actors also should not face one another unless absolutely necessary. This makes it near impossible (or impossible) to rehearse a naturalistic performance involving physical interaction between people and set (what is called “blocking”.), though it would work for simple recitation (which our shows are not).
- Actors and crew, at all times, must remain a minimum of 2 metres from any member of the audience.
- We have looked into the possibilities of performing outdoors, however, again we have encountered a number of issues. In addition to the socially distanced rehearsals/ performance issues, when out of doors, you require additional microphone and sound equipment so that audiences can hear you – sound is easily carried away outdoors. While we could borrow a suitable speaker system, we would not have enough microphones for the whole cast (microphones cannot be shared, there was a serious infection case in Northern Ireland, where a cast shared a microphone). Actors of course need access to changing spaces and toilets (audiences also need access to toilets) which means it is not possible to just “set up in a field”. We have found that every event needs a minimum of a calendar month to advertise, market, re-rehearse, and plan the logistics. If you do not have marketing and advertising in place one month before, as a minumum, you will be unable to sell the tickets in a reasonable enough amount. You need a large space again, to make it worthwhile for the cast and crew, with socially distanced audiences (again, down to earning from the ticket sales, and while most of our actors are from the local region, we also have actors and a technician, who come over from the Republic of Ireland to work in our shows.).
From our experience of street theatre, this is again impossible as you cannot charge for tickets, meaning the actors cannot earn, and that is an unacceptable situation unless you are an amateur dramatics club, which we are not. We also found doing street theatre years back , even with marshals in place, that people often will push through an audience, climb over barriers, and physically collide with performers, in fact at least one of those incidents - often more- would happen every single performance, which in this situation is utterly unsafe for everybody., for distancing etc. In addition to which, the scale of our current shows, (full scale 2 and 3 hour plays, professionally performed, with costuming etc for a cast of around 10-12 ) does not allow for performance on a street corner.
In the meantime therefore, we have our Virtual Season, which is allowing for some incredible collaborations to form, and some super broadcast theatre with new and established creatives to our team, working almost entirely online. We are also working with the Arts Council and Torbay Culture, to create a filmed performance piece about local Brixham ghosts and spooky tales, which creates some brilliant fully paid work for some of our actors; and we are in rehearsals for physical shows, to return to the physical stage once it is safe, and cost effective. We are also planning further ahead with writing for new shows, and working with more theatre shows through 2021 and 2022.
When we are able to return to the physical stage, our cast, crew and audiences should be aware that there will likely still be some level of restrictions, or additional guidance still in place, and to work with us on those.
We also recognise that there may still be a number of people, who may feel unsure about attending the theatre in person. We are working to run livestreams of our performances (at least one per production) from the venues, so that for those who would rather attend the theatre from the safety of their own home, they are able to, for the same ticket cost. Early equipment tests are proving very positive, and we are now working on linking the systems to high-quality cameras to provide the best audience experience.
There are also a number of other creative plans, the viability of which, will be looked into through the autumn, and developed from this work. (Some will succeed and others not be deemed as likely to work) so we are using this time as usefully as is humanly possible.
We fully realise that some of these “realities” of why we are not doing the “distanced indoor shows”, are hugely disappointing to many, both our audiences and our creatives, however, we feel that it is very important that we do everything in our power to ensure the wellbeing of our cast, crew and audiences, while also continuing to create work and . It is much better to come back to physical shows, a bit later with everyone well and happy, than to have had some avoidable disaster.
With the understandable confusion already appearing in some articles circulating online, regarding the August 13th announcement, we wanted to take the time to explain in detail, where we stand, and the reasons for our decisions.