APAC’s 2021 online study day explores the impact of Covid

On Thursday 17 June 2021 from 2.00pm-5.00pm the Association of Performing Arts Collections will host an Online Study Day. Entitled *Waiting in the Wings: Review, Reflect, Respond* the presentations will explore the impact of Covid-19 on performing arts collections.

APAC’s 2021 Online Study Day will reflect on the events of 2020, discuss the challenges & opportunities, and explore how APAC members are preparing for the future.

You will hear from APAC’s members about what they have learnt from their experiences of the past year, what challenges and opportunities have arisen, and what they plan to do differently going forwards.

Presentations will include:

Alice Bloom, Wimbledon College of Arts: Challenges and opportunities of supporting performance students online

Louise Manico, Early Dance Circle: The Early Dance Circle’s Shift to Digital in Response to Covid-19

Clare Wood, Southbank Centre: Keeping Connected: Southbank Centre Archive and the Art by Post project

Paul Roberts, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama/ABTT: An Archive in the Making: 60 years of the Association of British Theatre Technicians

Lucy Powell, University of Bristol Theatre Collection: Theatre and live art records at risk: survey, emergency response and capacity building at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection

Ian Abbott, Hip Hop Dance Almanac: The (mis)adventures of Ian Abbott and his attempts to build an archive of Hip Hop dance from scratch

Hannah Jones, The National Archives: Re-opening your archive service: strategies and scenarios

This event is free for APAC members or £5 for non-members. You can become a member of APAC from as little as £10 a year.

Book your tickets here

Enjoy an online walking tour of the changing face of Leeds cinemas

Paramount Theatre, Leeds

The good people at Leeds Civic Trust are responsible for organising a number of projects and events that help audiences from Leeds and surroundings to see the built heritage which surrounds them with fresh eyes and a healthy dose of appreciation.

For the cinema enthusiasts amongst u,s they have created a virtual cinema tour, looking at the changing face of cinema buildings in Leeds and taking in eleven cinema buildings which at times had theatrical presentations also. Garance Rawinsky leads the tour, which is now available online via YouTube.

You can watch the tour here

The best musical about a corpse – OPERATION MINCEMEAT – returns!

Sharper, smarter, crazier – SpitLip’s OPERATION MINCEMEAT, one of the biggest, funniest and best fringe hits of 2109 and 2020 is back!

Those of you who read my initial review from this show’s 2019 run at the New Diorama may remember that I loved the show’s smart lyrics, crazy and deftly-played comedy, and insanely catchy tunes. I did at the time express a hope that they would bring a director on board to develop its many strengths and ensure that the show achieved the even greater heights I suspected it had potential to rise to*.

Well, it seems that’s what they have done by bringing on board director Donnacadh O’Briain and choreographer Jenny Arnold. Really welcome news!

Not only that, but the team have spent considerable time during lockdown working on stripping down, streamlining and improving the show in many ways.

Together with the new logo and visuals, this all looks hugely promising.

So when can I see it, you ask? Well, the fruits of their labours can first be seen at 14 Work-In-Progress shows at the Southwark Playhouse in late July/early August.

(For those who may not have encountered them, Work In Progress performances are a way to try out new or fluid pieces of material within the framework of the show, to see what gets an audience reaction, and then working with those reactions to refine and hone the show. This means that audiences may well not see completely the same show from performance to performance, and it’s one of the great fun things about Work In Progress performances. If you are in doubt, bear in mind that in the 1930s, the Marx Brothers took their film scripts out to play live in theatres (often as much as six times a day) to “find the laughs” so that the writers could hone them, before committing the scripts to film.)

The story? During World War Two the British are constantly seeking novel ways to outwit the enemy. The idea- to create a fake identity by dressing an anonymous corpse as a Marine officer whose body will wash up on Spanish shores carrying fake papers about a planned Allied invasion of Sardinia, to distract attention -and troops- from the real point of entry, Sicily. Putting the plan into action involves much crazy fun along the way, from forgetful morticians (“must have a head, must be a man”) to creating the corpse’s backstory, to suspicions about who can be trusted. The show gained an impressive number of five and four-star reviews on its first and second runs.

I see that SpitLip have comedy specialists Avalon supporting them now which means a shift into bigger potential. But for me the ideal would be for a canny female producer (I’d love to name them but there are so many!) to take this in hand and make it into an even bigger hit.

The previous stagings of OPERATION MINCEMEAT won The Stage Debut award for Best Composer/Lyricist, the Off-West End award for Best Company Ensemble, and was listed in The Observer‘s Top 10 shows of 2019.

I already have my tickets booked for this run and would urge you to book yours too, if you want to be in at the development of a musical comedy which delivers big on both music and comedy, and which has the potential to be a cult hit of the same scale as THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW.

You can book tickets here from 11am on Thursday 10th June, but you’d better do it quickly!

* (This is one of the reasons the show didn’t get five stars from me, but four – because I suspected there was an even better show in there – and I would be quite possibly be giving that five stars somewhere down the line.)

All Party Parliamentary Group for Theatre takes evidence today

Today the All Party Parliamentary Group for Theatre was taking evidence on “How Local Authorities and Theatres can help each other recover from Covid-19”.

MPs and Peers were joined by Speakers from The RSC, HOME Manchester.Islington Council and the Local Government Association.

The background to the session reads as follows:

“Councils have played an important role in supporting the theatre sector. During the COVID 19 pandemic and theatres have worked to support their local communities in a variety of ways. It has been a year of incredible challenges, and would have been even bleaker were it not for national Government support schemes, including the Cultural Recovery Fund, JRS, and SEISS, and support by local authorities for their theatre venues.

This session aims to look at what is needed next for theatres to succeed locally, and for local areas to flourish. As a result, this session forms one part of many conversations across the UK, about how local government can work with the theatre sector to deliver a sustainable, national and local recovery.

Theatre can play a vital role in recovery from supporting high street renewal and the night-time and visitor economies to delivering against social outcomes including mental wellbeing, educational achievement, and social cohesion. But theatres cannot do it without strong local partnerships.

The theatre industry understand the extraordinary pressures on local government finances, and the difficult decisions that they will face in the coming years, however, this is a critical moment, to ensure that local cultural provision is protected as once lost, it is difficult to recover.”

My friend Dr Maria Barrett, who is a valued contributor to these events, noted that Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of Portsmouth City Council began by pointing out what is often overlooked – local authorities are incredibly important in supporting local theatres – they represent £1bn of funding (2x the Arts Council’s budget), they run 116 theatres directly, and own over 500. Hugely important points to remember.

More information and video of the presentations will be available shortly on the APPG Theatre page of the UK Theatre website which you can find here

VIEWS: “So great to be back!” – West End theatres first audiences report…

If there’s anyone reading this who is feeling a little unsure about returning to theatre, let me assure you that you are not alone. Many people have contacted me over the last few weeks asking about how it’s all going, are the protocols in place working, how do people feel, etc. So this seemed like a good time to take a survey some of those who have already made their way into our West End theatres. So I did. And here are the major takeaways from what they all said. Respondents visited a sample of all the West End theatre groups which are currently open and showing work, and the feedback is intended to give you a general overview, as opposed to a theatre-by-theatre approach.

Did you have instructions when to arrive on your tickets? All respondents said that their confirmation email containing their e-tickets outlined when doors would open, where to enter, and what time they needed to be seated by.

What were your feelings of anticipation of returning to the theatre? The general response was that they were really looking forward to returning, particularly supporting the industry and enjoying a night out after so many months away from live theatre.

What were your feelings upon arrival at the theatre? One respondent responded they felt a little cautious, but the rest said they felt absolutely fine, and were eagerly anticipating their show.

Were there temperature checks/bag searches/any other entry processes? If so, were they conducted well? Anything they could improve upon? All respondents reported that Front of House processes were very well managed, and that there were separate queues, depending on where in the theatre one was sitting. There was unanimous praise for the helpful staff on hand to guide patrons to the correct queue. At all venues surveyed, our respondents were asked to scan the NHS Covid check-in QR code, but there were few temperature checks reported. All of the surveyed theatres were operating bag searches before entering the theatre, and hand sanitisers were noted as being widely available throughout all the theatres surveyed. Audiences were specifically instructed to keep masks on at all times when not drinking, and staff were reported as wandering the aisles throughout to ensure compliance. Some were reported as carrying signs to remind people about wearing masks.

Did you have any ticket issues? One respondent mentioned having trouble accessing her ticket PDF on her phone, and so she was redirected to the Box Office where paper tickets were made available. Respondent noted that the staff were very helpful and unflustered by this.

Re scanning the NHS QR code, did you each have to scan or could one person do it for your party? Each person had to scan separately. Patrons who didn’t have the app were asked to manually complete a form which were readily available on entry to the theatre.

How were the staff? Were there more than you expected or less of them? Staff were very friendly and helpful and clearly delighted to be back – but also very vigilant with ensuring mask compliance throughout. It was noted that staff were doing a great job, being firm but friendly and helpful. It was also noted that there were significantly more Front of House staff than previously seen around venues.

Any issues around queuing? One respondent had to queue to buy a programme, but was not fazed by this.

How was navigating your way around the building? Very easy, with clear signage. One respondent noted that “Pre-pandemic there was always a sense of rushing in the foyers, but this was all well-ordered and good-humoured”

Any problems? None reported

Any issues with your seats or surroundings? No issues, with appropriate seats blocked off to ensure social distancing at all venues surveyed.

How full was the theatre? Very mixed reactions to this one. The lowest was from a respondent who reported around 35% of socially-distanced capacity for their performance, albeit in the first week of reopening, on Friday. Several more mentioned varying percentages, up to 100% of socially-distanced capacity for a Saturday matinee in week two of reopening.

What was “the buzz” like? Several people noted the reduced numbers affected the “buzz” in the auditorium, but for several that was compensated by the excitement of those who were there. Very few reported any feelings of nervousness or anxiety, perhaps a sign that the Front of House teams are succeeding in helping people feel comfortable, by being so vigilant and friendly. All respondents described a level of “comeback high” at the end of their performance, a step towards normality that all were grateful for.

Did your show have an interval? Was it well-managed by the staff? Several shows had an interval and overall it was reported that they were well managed, with staff and patrons being mindful and kind.

Any issues around loos/queuing/bars/etc ? No major issues, with all mentioning that patrons were bring sensible and considerate, especially in queuing for the loos, still sadly an issue for the ladies. One respondent noted an issue at the bar – “restrictions meant only one person in each party could buy drinks from the bar to prevent crowding. A gentleman went to the bar to buy 3 mini bottles of wine/bubbly and was told he couldn’t take glass back into the theatre, and had to pour these into glasses before returning, however the glasses themselves weren’t big enough to hold the volume of liquid in each bottle, and he struggled to physically carry these back”.

Another respondent noted the strict queuing system for the bars at her show’s interval. “It was just like going to the bank!” she said, “personally, I think this is a brilliant idea that should be kept.”

Were there any issues with leaving the theatre? None reported.

What was your overall impression of the theatre’s handling of the safety processes and procedures. Overall we would say staff had been very well briefed and protocols were good

Would you recommend a theatre trip to others? “Yes, absolutely!” was the unanimous response from all those surveyed. One respondent mentioned “Although the theatre was relatively empty we more than made up for it in encouragement and appreciation of the performers, and it was such a lovely evening.”

Any tips on what to look out for? Issues to avoid? Nothing specific was noted by any of the respondents.

Conclusions My thanks to all the respondents for giving me their views and sharing them with all of us. It certainly appears that West End theatres are doing a splendid job of welcoming audiences back, taking sensible measures and enforcing them with a professionalism and warmth that the West End is famous for. I hope that these responses will help you make up your own mind about when and how you return to the West End – it has certainly helped me to feel much more confident about getting back to theatre, and Seeing It Safely!