On Monday 16 March last year, the Prime Minister announced in one of his recently introduced 5pm daily television briefings, that he was confident that theatre proprietors would 'do the right thing' in the fight against Covid. Over the next few hours, venues announced last minute cancellations of performances planned for that evening, and during the following days I spend much of my time rescheduling our Spring show programme until later in the year. None of us at that stage, thought for a minute that our Autumn Season would be unable to go ahead, or that our legendary annual pantomime would be under threat. Twelve months later, however, theatres are still closed and the industry faces unprecedented challenges.
As I write, however, it appears that there is cause for hope! The Government has just announced a 'roadmap', in which it 'hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact' by 21 June. There are many unanswered questions as far as hosting theatrical performances are concerned, and many of these should be answered by the 'Events Research Programme' due to take place over the coming weeks, but it certainly seems as though, primarily thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the vaccination programme roll-out, that we are getting there!
The past year has been incredibly challenging for theatres, and it would be fair to say that each venue has responded to the crisis in a different way, often depending on its operational model and source of funding. A number have closed their doors completely, some on a permanent basis, others in effect moth-balling their operation until such time as it makes financial sense to reopen. Others have thrown themselves into online content, streaming services, film, and socially-distanced shows to keep their audiences engaged.
Our offer has been somewhere in-between. The majority of our team were furloughed at the start of the pandemic, and since then have been redeployed to work within other areas of the Council, (and I have to say, their response to the crisis, and willingness to adapt has been tremendous). A skeleton staff has continued to open the building for activities associated with tackling the virus. For example, we set up the borough's Food Hub to source and distribute food supplies to the vulnerable throughout the first lockdown period, and we continue to host Blood Donation sessions. We have also been able to welcome back a number of our regular community groups at various points.
Most recently, we have been pleased and proud to be able to host one of the country's many vaccination centres. Having opened at the start of January, the centre is likely to be operated from the Princes Hall for a number of months yet, and it has been wonderful to be a small part of the operation. The NHS staff who run the site work extremely hard, and the huge number of volunteers who give up hours of their time to enable the centre to run really are quite extraordinary. It's also just a joy to have people using the building again, for whatever purpose!
Theatre is a difficult business in which to operate financially at the best of times, both for venues and for artistes. The reduction in seating capacity and consequently potential ticket revenue necessitated by social-distancing requirements, has made the challenge even greater. Consequently, 'getting back to normal' and offering a full professional show programme is very much dependent on when social-distancing measures are dropped, and the recent Government roadmap has given us some hope that this will be sooner than we thought just a few weeks ago. As things stand, we are planning for a full show programme returning from the end of June, in line with Step 4 of the Government's proposed easing of restrictions.
Details of our professional shows booked from this time are shown on our wesbite 'What's On' section. If you see something that appeals, I would encourage you to just go for it and book your tickets in the knowledge that, should the show need to be rescheduled for any reason, you will always have the option of a full refund.
Whenever you return to the Princes Hall, you can be assured that you will receive your usual warm welcome, and that all measures will have been taken to ensure that your visit is as safe and enjoyable as possible.
So, my message is simple. Please stick with us, keeping booking those tickets, and very soon you'll be back in your favourite local theatre enjoying all those top- quality professional shows!
Thank you as always for your continued support. Here's to a much brighter and happier rest of 2021!
Very best wishes,