The Future of Theatre- Will the Curtain Rise Again?

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If you have a passion for theatre, whether that be theatre reviews, problems within the theatre industry, the latest information about theatre stars or a discussion on which theatres are the best venues, then this is the column for you. Be sure to join Abbie Harrision for a chat about all things theatre related.

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As the UK enters into step one of the Government’s ‘Covid-19 recovery strategy’ we can finally anticipate being able to see our loved ones again (at a safe distance) and venturing into our favourite shops once more, although visiting public activities such as cinema trips, eating at restaurants and going to theatres might be a long way off yet.

Step three of the Government’s ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ is the stage at which we may finally be able to bask in the glory of theatre again, restoring what has become an irreplaceable part of many lives. Though it is not specified when theatres in the UK may fling open their doors once more, July 4th appears to be a benchmark at which the show can go on. That being said, this date is conditional, and businesses will only be permitted to reopen once it is safe to do so.  The Society of London Theatre have updated us this week (03.06.20) that West End shows are now cancelled until August 2nd, and have not confirmed whether August 3rd is the date at which theatres can reopen. 

 

Pictures of the Berliner Ensemble have been floating around the internet recently, in which theatres have had many of their seats stripped from the floor in order to maintain social distancing whilst watching actors grace the stage. 

The Berliner Ensemble illustrates a stripped auditorium, ensuring the relative safety of those who choose to visit the theatre. When the theatre reopens, after having been shut from March 13, only 200 of the 700 initial seats remain. Participants will also be able to use the toilets at any time to avoid large volumes of people visiting at any one time. 

 

Theatres and playhouses of the UK may not be able to follow in such a path as the Berliner Ensemble, for financially they are not receiving the same level of support as their German counterparts. Theatre tickets in Germany are being subsidised so that the prices for those who wish to venture into one can do so at the same reasonable prices as before the lockdown. UK theatres are currently not receiving any form of subsidy, and at the current ticket rate, they have to sell at least 60% of seats in order to cover costs and survive. 

 

The financial problem means that some hard-hit UK theatres may not be able to reopen their doors at all, and with their extinction also comes the destruction of the beautiful experiences that happen within. Whilst theatre giants in the West-End may be capable of weathering the Covid-19 storm, the likelihood of the same outcome is bleak for those smaller, independent theatres across our nation. Not only would these theatres have taken an enormous hit from mid-March, but they would also need an incredible amount of capital in order to incorporate social distancing.

 

Should theatres claw their way through this pandemic, your next trip to theatre might encounter some big changes. It is unlikely that theatres in the UK will adopt a similar approach to the Berliner Ensemble, there may be screens in-between seats, or merely cordoned off areas in which you will not be able to enter into. Intervals might be a thing of the past to avoid any large crowding and bringing your own food and drink may be encouraged. All of these measures make for a very different viewing experience, though many aren’t opposed to being less ‘squashed’ or ‘cramped’ In their seats and would like to see such a thing implemented in the future of theatre viewing.

Theatres may have to use screens to ensure viewers’ safety. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock

 

However, theatres may not have such a grim future if they received some help! Should the government provide a subsidy such as the one German theatres can receive, they may not have to run at a loss, and can continue to provide much-loved shows for many years to come. Not only is theatre such a beloved form of expression in the UK, it is also important to the economy of the nation. In 2018, statistics from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport provided a Gross Value Added of £32.02 billion, as well as, alongside the music industry, providing 296,000 jobs. The UK economy would suffer greatly without the support of the theatre industry, much like the theatre industry will suffer without the help of the UK government. 

 

This pandemic will not last forever, and the show will go on, though not every curtain will rise again. There are plenty of things that we can do to save UK theatre, whether that be the theatres themselves or those who make a living. If you’re interested in finding ways to support UK theatre through the crisis, London Theatre Direct has an article here which provides an overview into places you can donate to and show your vital support for the theatre industry. 

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CUB’s Abbie Harrison is a first year QM historian who loves reading fiction books, baking and travelling, in addition to her passion for theatre.

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