Today marks 100 days since West End theatres were forced to close due to the pandemic. Did everyone else get a shiver just then?
It was Monday 16th March when theatres were ordered to close their doors immediately, less than an hour before curtains were due to go up and the audience were already in some of the venues. When it happened, I don't think anybody envisioned we would still be here 100 days later with no end in sight for when theatres can open their doors again (well, technically they can but more on that later).
It's been an incredibly tough three months for everyone, but it has been particularly hard on all the devoted souls who give everything they have night after night on stage, backstage and front of house. Not to mention how heartbreaking it has been for all of us theatre lovers and obsessives who have had to go without our regular fix for what feels like a lifetime.
As interesting and challenging as the last 100 days have been, it hasn't been entirely bad. We have all learned a great deal about our beloved industry. I've personally learnt that as much as I have always loved and obsessed over theatre, it is more than just a hobby or form of pleasure for me, it is a lifeline. Regular trips to the theatre have a huge impact on my own sanity and quality of life.
I know a lot of us have struggled without it for the last 100 days but we have all learned a few things I'm sure. Here are 5 things we've all realised over the last 100 days:
1. THE SHOW REALLY MUST GO ON
While we have all been unable to sit in a theatre for 100 days, we haven't gone without theatre completely, thanks to a deluge of online streams such as National Theatre at Home and the weekly The Shows Must Go On series. Watching a past musical from a range with diverse titles such as The Phantom of the Opera, The Wiz and even By Jeeves has become part of a ritual for us every Friday at 7pm and given us a much needed sense of normality.
Even Hamilton is getting in on the act with the filmed performance starring the original Broadway cast being pulled forward a whopping 15 months to be released on Disney+ next week!
Now we are looking at more ticketed virtual performances with a socially distanced version of The Last Five Years premiering this week, as will Lungs which will be filmed and streamed live each night at The Old Vic, with similar shows likely to follow in the coming months. It does give us hope that there is still a way to make this disastrous situation work.
2. IT'S CALLED A CREATIVE INDUSTRY FOR A REASON
When some of the most creative people the country has to offer are unable to display their talents on stage, they get creative and ensure the show must go on in any form they can manage.
We have been treated to a vast number of online concerts, such as the brilliant Leave A Light On series featuring more icons from the West end stage than it is possible to list in one breath. Other concerts have taken place, given us an insight into our favourite stage stars' living rooms (and let's be honest, who doesn't love nosing at what books they have in their houses). There have also been collective concerts for both West end and Broadway stars honouring charities and legendary writers such as Sondheim.
The stars of the stage have also kept up the connection with their supporters, more so than before lockdown. Whether it's through uploading daily videos on YouTube like Carrie Hope Fletcher and Oliver Ormson, Dear Evan Hansen star David Breeds' hilarious daily uploads to Twitter or the surge in Cameo where you can get a personal message or song from your fave and also support them in this challenging time. It's been heartwarming to see that while the industry struggles, creativity thrives.
3. THE THEATRE INDUSTRY IS MORE FRAGILE THAN ANYONE REALISED
When you sit in a packed house in the theatre to see an award winning show starring some of the worlds finest, it all seems untouchable. I don't think anybody realised how quickly it could all fall apart. Several theatres have already announced they are at risk with Theatre Royal in Plymouth being the latest to make all of their staff redundant. Other venues such as Nuffield in Southampton has gone into administration while Birmingham Hippodrome are also looking at redundancies.
With no income coming in and ticket cancellations taking every last penny away from the industry, it has been an incredibly challenging time - the theatres we love so much are far more vulnerable than I had ever realised , and the thought not all of them will be able to reopen when it is safe to do so is heartbreaking.
4. THE GOVERNMENT DO NOT GIVE ENOUGH SUPPORT TO THE INDUSTRY
The way the government have treated the arts in general has been shocking. They have stepped in to support other struggling industries but the arts have been seriously neglected, hardly being mentioned at all in Parliament and daily briefings. Actors such as Marisha Wallace commented on live TV it's like they think it's a hobby when in actual fact it is a career. So why did they think it's ok to treat it lesser than other industries?
In the roadmap to recovery, BoJo announced this week that theatres can indeed reopen (YAY) but can't put on any live performances...
Sometimes I feel like we're living in a hidden camera show. How is that going to help? Even for a creative industry that is testing to find ways to make that work. Why is it that other countries have managed to find ways to keep performances going in theatres but the UK can't? It's been incredibly frustrating and disheartening to witness their lack of empathy and concern. Then Boris had the cheek to say he was looking forward to getting back to the theatre. Maybe he could star in Mischief Theatre's 'The Prime Minister That Goes Wrong'?
5. THEATRE VOICES WILL NEVER BE SILENCED
People employed in theatre and theatre fans alike are both highly vocal (Literally in the singers cases) so you can bet we're not going to sit down and be silenced. A petition urging the government to give more support to the arts has raised over 150,000 signatures so far and will be debated in Parliament.
A peaceful protest called 'Can You Hear The People Sing' has been organised and is due to take place on Saturday 11th July. The protest will see theatre workers and fans march from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street to protest the way the industry has been neglected.
The government might not see the importance of theatre in the country but, thankfully, hundreds of thousands if not millions of people do. With us all using our voices to pledge our support, it creates power and hopefully influence the future of the industry.
It's been 100 days. Unfortunately, it looks like we might be waiting another 100 days yet.
Society of London Theatre (SOLT) have formally announced all West end theatres will be closed until August 2nd, several shows have announced they will not reopen until September while Cameron Mackintosh has announced his shows Hamilton, Les Mis, Mary Poppins and The Phantom of the Opera will not reopen until 2021.
There is no official date when the theatres will reopen. It is likely SOLT will announce another extension to the closure date, or if any theatres can find a way to make it work, their doors may well open but without performances on stage for the forseeable future. The Prince of Egypt brazenly announcing an extension until September 2021 gave us all a much needed injection of positivity and inspires us that the future might not be so bad after all.
I know the near future looks bleak but we have survived 100 days and we will survive however many more days there are left. The important thing is ensuring the industry and all the beautiful theatres in it also survive so keep pledging your support in any way you can.
While it might be tough now, remember this is only the interval and we all know from experience, when Act 2 starts it is going to be even bigger and better than Act 1.