Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre explains why theatre reopenings differ from pubs and restaurants

“Super Saturday” (July 4) saw pubs and restaurants return to serving customers. For theatres across the county however, it is a very different situation.

Like all theatres, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre had to close its doors in mid-March after the extent of the coronavirus pandemic became evident.

They have a smaller than usual staff team working at the moment. They have taken advantage of the government’s retention scheme, furloughing a lot of employees and asking them to work flexibly.

“You can space people out in a large restaurant. It’s not possible for us, easily and without more cost, to move the seats apart in the auditorium,” said director and chief executive Joanna Read, speaking just days before pubs and restaurants welcomed customers back through their doors.

She says the issue comes down to proximity and spacing, as theatres cannot be financially viable until a certain percentage of the audience are able to sit in the auditorium.

“Most theatres need to be playing to [at least] 60% capacity to make the finance stack up. That’s the issue, the number of people. We’re hoping and waiting for that to change.”

Joanna Read says that theatres need to be performing to a certain capacity to be financially viable

She is however hopeful to reintroduce the theatre through film screenings later in the year, understandably much lower risk than having a large theatre group performing.

“The other issue for us is the [number of] actors on stage, and the company putting the show together. If you can’t have singers or dancers, it makes a lot of things difficult. Some theatres are very cramped backstage, so that makes social distancing very difficult,” says Sally Anne Lowe, director of marketing and customer experience at Yvonne Arnaud.

She reinforces the belief that theatre reopenings are very different to the return of dining in, although there are things they can learn from the return of hospitality, including management of their own café and bar, and their public toilets.

SurreyLive spoke to Yvonne Arnaud in May, but a great deal has changed in even that amount of time. On Thursday, June 26, culture secretary Oliver Dowden published a five stage plan for a “phased return” to theatrical performances:

  • Stage one allows rehearsal and training without audiences, while observing social distancing guidelines.
  • Stage two allows performances for broadcast and recording purposes, while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
  • Stage three permits performances to take place outdoors with an audience, along with piloting indoor performances with limited, distanced audience.
  • Stages four and five permit performances indoors/outdoors, the latter with a fuller audience.

The roadmap has faced criticisms for its vagueness of timescale. Joanna says there is nothing there that anyone would disagree with, but it can be difficult to work around with no suggestion of dates.

Yvonne Arnaud is looking to announce performances for March and April 2021, and is still hoping to host its annual pantomime around the Christmas period, but social distancing would have to be reduced before then.

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For anyone who wants to support them, the best way to do so is through providing donations.

Sally Anne says: “We’ve been very lucky so far, we’ve had 600 people since March donating, 300 of whom have not been previous donors. We’re really lucky that people clearly support and love this theatre.”

Joanna adds: “I think it’s really positive that people have a better understanding of what a tremendous contribution theatre makes to the economy. I think people are understanding how fragile the model is.”

On Monday (July 6), the government unveiled a £1.57 billion support package to help protect the futures of UK theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural venues.

Surrey Live – News