The week before theatres ‘locked down’ I watched four live performances. Gecko’s Little Space at the New Wolsey Theatre, Northern Broadsides’ Quality Street at Bury Theatre Royal, a dress-run of Eastern Angles’ Red Skies and finally, Luke Wright’s The Remains of Logan Dankworth at FAYAP (a portakabin in Framlingham). As the week (9th – 15th March) unfolded, things got weirder. Events were being cancelled. I would no longer be travelling to London for the ITC Conference, and I was relieved.
On Tuesday the 10th I had (sort of) happily hugged and tapped toes with friends in the bar, and sat next to strangers in the crowded New Wolsey auditorium. But, by Saturday night, I was slightly nervous about seeing the Luke Wright gig. But I did, because, for me, travelling ten minutes down the road to sit in a familiar community venue in small-town Framlingham felt like a relatively low-risk activity. I’m glad I did. Luke was brilliant as always, and it was poignant to hear him say that we were probably watching his last live gig for quite a while (he was right).
My reaction got me thinking. When all this was over, could small-scale, hyperlocal, community-focused, rural touring be one of the ways out? I wrote a letter to The Stage, they published it, but they edited out the stuff about rural touring. So, like a dog with a bone, emailed Lyn Gardner. She saw something in the idea. We had a chat ranging over a whole load of topics – the potential for Coronavirus-friendly, drive-in theatre in rural settings; cabaret-style seating; the nimble and responsive nature of small-scale theatre companies with low overheads and flat management systems. But the thing that stuck out for me was the word ‘confidence’. How will we rebuild the confidence of funders and encourage them to resume their support, how will we rebuild the confidence of theatre companies (those who have survived!) to invite audiences back, and most importantly, how will we rebuild the confidence of audiences to once again sit in a crowded room with a bunch of strangers? Big questions.
On the crucial topic of finance, my work is reliant on Project Grant Funding from Arts Council England. This was suspended for a very good reason. In the first instance, ACE needed to divert funds towards its NPO organisations. And, hats off to them for their speedy support for individuals and Non-NPO companies. The theatre industry is a finely-balanced, interdependent ecosystem. Along with many other Freelance Creative people, I benefit from a healthy and solvent NPO portfolio. I’m at the bottom of the food chain. And, thankfully, I’m still being ‘fed’ by doing a bit of freelance project work for Eastern Angles.
But my other freelance work has virtually dried-up. The day before the suspension of ACE Project Grants I had submitted an application to do some community engagement theatre work with young people in Stowmarket. Bad timing! I will now need to re-submit my application once the fund re-opens. Two other projects I am involved in are also ‘on simmer’ whilst we patiently wait for a nod from ACE.
So, here I am, interviewing people who live and work on the Norfolk Broads for a future Eastern Angles show called Booming Voices – a wonderfully ‘mindful’ activity taking me into some fascinating conservations about birds, boats, butterflies, conservation and climate.
And, I’m currently having some very cautious but comfortingly up-beat chats with venues and programmers about future tours of Natalie Songer’s Satellites (about family, space exploration and the fascinating horror of World War 2) and Shamser Sinha’s Collapsing Stars (about love, taxi-driving and lives of a British Pakistani family).