Today is the 16th of March ; one year ago today, The West End and theatres across the UK closed. The curtain came down, the ghost lights dimmed, and the stage has been gathering dust ever since. The pandemic called, and theatres bowed without applause from the audiences or the government. The silence has been deafening ever since. They were the first ones out and will probably will be the last ones back in.
Theatres are not just the actors. There is a whole team that you don’t get to see, from the cleaners, security, front of house staff, production teams; there has been an estimate that over 10,000 jobs have been lost due to the pandemic. If you ask any person who works in theatre, I will bet you their answers would be the same – you don’t go into theatre for the money. You get a job in theatre for the love, passion and connection the art form brings.
Theatre, like all industries, has suffered during the pandemic. However, the government has put theatre and people working within the industry on the backburner. Now, quite rightly, theatre isn’t essential in comparison to health and safety. However, the government has actively worked against the return of theatres, with people working within the industry not eligible to apply for government funding due to the self-employed nature of the industry. In addition to this, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, stated that “people in the arts sector should retrain and find other jobs’. This resulted in a devasting financial blow and drastic outlook to the future of an industry that already has to justify its existence as an art form.
Imagine the frustration of the workers and actors of the theatre. They left quietly and sacrificed financial stability and passion for the greater good, all to witness this demeaning response from the government. Not to mention sitting at home, abiding by the government’s restrictions. Having to watch the news in July, where Soho was packed to the brim with people in the streets a stones throw from theatreland, was a mockery.
Despite this, the community didn’t lie down and take it. They kept the magic alive from the comfort of their homes. Using social media, theatre giants like Alfie Boe, Kerry Ellis and Michael Ball (to name a few) got together with help from Official London Theatre. They performed theatre classics on YouTube that will put the chills on the back of your neck for sure. On top of that, Andrew Lloyd Webber created The Show Must Go project. That streamed free productions of his famous shows like the Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Jesus Christ Superstar in order to spread the joy of live theatre and raise money for the Theatre Artists Fund.
The power of theatre is a privilege but essential in its own right. To sit in a theatre and be transported for a couple of hours, to hear the swell of the orchestra, the feeling you get when the lights go down for the opening act, the euphoria when the cast washes the mask away and runs out for the bows. When the audience is united as one in celebration. You can’t put a price on it. I even miss the extortionate prices you have to pay for the programmes. It’s been a year since I’ve been in a theatre, and I’m counting down the days until we meet again.
In order to show your support, please repost the hashtag First Out Last In on all your social media.
Featured image credit – Time Out