The UK, along with the rest of the world, has been set to panic mode due to the national pandemic of COVID-19. Scaremongering from the media and an ill prepared Prime Minister have done their best to cause havoc and worry across Britain.
While other countries such as Italy and the United States have taken stronger measures to stop the spread of the Corona virus, England is still just in a bit of a purgatory over what happens next. This has left many people scared about what would happen if their jobs or businesses were to be affected, if the country were to go into lockdown or quarantined.
This, of course, could affect many different industries, not least of all the events and cultural sector.
It’s understandable that many people may be left confused or surprised that events, gigs, shows and concerts are still going ahead across England, given that citizens in other countries have been advised to self isolate and avoid busy places. Scotland has even put a ban on all mass gatherings of over 500 people.
So, why haven’t theatre performances, concerts or comedy shows just stopped altogether? Basically, because the government haven’t yet called for it, and it puts the entire industry, as well as workers finances in jeopardy.
The nature of the live performance sector is complex as there are so many people involved in each and every show that’s created. From a headline tour across arenas or stadiums, to local community theatre productions, the labour and investments involved are huge.
You may scoff at the idea of someone like Ed Sheeran being left out of pocket if one of his tours got cancelled, but the fact is it isn’t just Ed’s tour. It’s his managers, his tour managers, his stage techs, his transport providers, his caterers. It’s the managers of each individual venue, the venues PR assistant, the zero hours contract cleaners, security staff, bar staff and box office workers. This can add up to hundreds, more likely thousands of staff for large tours, all losing hours and income. And of course, no one wants to disappoint fans that have paid a lot of money and waited a long time for these shows either.
For smaller shows at your cities comedy club, or am-dram group, the risk is often even bigger. Small and independent venues depend on shows going ahead to make each performance viable, pay the bills and hire a plumber to fix the leaky toilet.
A lot of theatres operate as charities without audiences even realising. Even here in Newcastle upon Tyne, the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Live Theatre and People’s Theatre are all not for profit venues. That’s only to name a few in the North East. Charities like these often don’t have pots of money to fall back on as a safety net.
Cancelling performances, and especially clusters of performances is also no easy task. As there are multiple people to go between across the venue, and the shows production and management team.
If and when a show gets cancelled, each of these venues, their staff and the performers and crews of travelling tours all take a significant hit. If shows are cancelled for an undetermined length of time, the affects of this could be dreadful for the arts across the UK, if not further. That’s without mentioning the local bars and restaurants that all benefit from these events going ahead. The hairdressers not getting booked up for blow drys, or the taxi drivers unable to find jobs.
Lastly, finance isn’t all there is to it. As almost anyone who works in the arts will tell you, show business often isn’t well paid. Live performance and cultural events are a labour of love and passion. It’s people’s life’s work, it’s keeping choirs alive, it’s giving a spectacular hobby to OAP groups who wouldn’t be able to socialise otherwise. It’s skill building and workshops for people with disabilities, it’s children being able to see their hero singing live on stage. It’s feeling part of a community and getting lost in a performance while the world outside is in turmoil.
The show must go on, but please don’t take anger, fear or frustration out on our venues, staff or performers.
At the moment, they are doing everything they can do to ensure their audiences are safe, they are constantly keeping up with the news and any advice from the government, they are worrying how they are going to survive closing for the foreseeable future without causing damage to their historical building, or leaving their staff without pay.
At the moment, the only advice they can give you is that the show is going ahead as normal, until any further notice. It’s as frustrating for them as it is you, but sadly there’s nothing else they can say, apart from the obvious please wash your hands and turn your phones off during the production.