Guest Blog: Amanda Davey, Chief Executive of The Actors Centre, On Unhelpful Comments About When Theatres Can Reopen
I recognise that as a sector, we are in completely unknown territory due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread. However, I have been particularly perturbed and frustrated by comments made by those with influence, power (and money) about when theatres and cultural spaces will reopen and what this will look like when they do.
Following comments made by Andrew Lloyd Webber, stating that a June reopening was "optimistic" and "ridiculous", and that "theatres [will] remain closed until end of September", the increase in speculative online debate has added further uncertainty and fear into an already turbulent conversation, with Sir Cameron Mackintosh recently proclaiming that theatres are "unlikely" to reopen until 2021.
These insinuations have far-reaching ramifications - not just for our theatres, but for the artists and creatives who make our cultural institutions what they are. Supporting artists is at the heart of what we do at The Actors Centre, but this is a remit that has become additionally challenging when those artists are faced with mounting fears and a lack of clarity about their future careers.
I'm not sure if these individuals are privy to information the rest of us working on the ground are completely unaware of, however I find these musings and supposed foresights to be really damaging to the sector - not least for the artists whose livelihoods have already been and continue to be decimated, alongside smaller organisations which work tirelessly at a grassroots level to support and nurture the talent that exists as the beating heart of our industry.
Conversations around the potential reopening of our organisations are difficult enough without the unhelpful addition of rumour, hearsay and speculation based on opinion rather than fact. The entire industry and thousands of jobs are at risk, and now more than ever, those in positions of privilege and power need to be mindful of the gravity and consequences of such speculation. In these uncertain times, we need these voices to be a force for good and advocate for our industry, rather than damaging its fragility even further.
The Actors Centre has been sitting in regular meetings with the Society of London Theatre (SOLT and listening to the advice being relayed from the Government - and a return date in terms of reopening just hasn't been discussed. That is not to say that the dates of September 2020 or January 2021 will end up being incorrect - this may well be the case - but for now, let's be clear, we just do not know!
The Actors Centre is hoping to reopen (in whatever capacity) in late June - a timeframe that was set when we went into lockdown in March. We do not know if this will be possible, and if so, what social distancing measures will be in place for our return. What we do know is that we are monitoring this daily, continuing to have open, honest conversations with artists and companies, and most of all we are dealing in fact! The ongoing unsubstantiated opinions of a few are making it incredibly difficult to enter into conversations about future programme/s; artists and companies are quite rightly concerned, potential investors are spooked, and so it goes on.
The suggestion that theatres looking towards a June reopening are "ridiculous" is a particularly privileged standpoint from which to pontificate; a flippant disregard for unsubsidised charities such as The Actors Centre, whose existence is already a precarious one. We hope that our urgent fundraising appeal to #SupportTheActorsCentre and safeguard its future will make a small contribution to mitigate our losses during this period of closure.
However, what it cannot do is instil confidence in artists and audiences to return to our theatres, even if it is deemed safe to do so. These types of comments can have a long-lasting impact on the sector, and, once entered into public discourse, leave a trail of fear and even more uncertainty in their wake. For The Actors Centre, this would inevitably mean closure.
If we are to get through this, we need clear and consistent messaging that instils confidence, and we need strong leadership, not hearsay. Let's be clear: we want artists and audiences to be safe - this is of course a priority - but the mixed messaging and scaremongering from a few individuals is making it harder for the majority of us who are doing everything in our power just to survive.
The fact of the matter is that, in these abnormal and ambiguous times, what we crave the most is often so intangibly out of reach. Routine. Normality. Certainty. With our industry currently on lockdown, we are working harder than ever before to bring those moments of joy, hope and imagination to our audiences, to keep theatre alive and somehow find a way for the shows to go on. Speculative comments by the privileged 'big players' offer a dangerous feign of certainty; their comments carrying a saliency and authority that can obliterate smaller venues which cannot afford to buy into speculation.
Of course, it is right to approach the reopening and re-emergence of our sector/industry with a sense of realism and pragmatism - at The Actors Centre, as aforementioned, we will move only forward in line with official Government advice and that of SOLT to reopen when it is safe and appropriate to do so. However, ostensibly clouding these official guidelines are sweeping statements, which, perhaps unintentionally, instil additional fears and worries into the minds of artists and audiences alike.
The old adage of "Let he who shouts the loudest be heard first" should not apply here. Now more than ever, the privileged and the powerful must understand the currency of their words. If the shows must go on, we must first speak truth to power.