This webpage provides a summary of the ways in which a number of our OffWestEnd venues have adapted to life under lockdown. This webpage will be updated from time to time.
The Alexandra Palace has been turned into a food distribution hub.
BAC has been supporting the sector since lockdown started, providing Gigaid support to get vital resources out to people. It helped enable Improbable set-up digital open spaces for discussions about the future of the sector at #Timetorespair. Its building is to become a hub that brings local organisations together to deliver creative packs to local children.
During the pandemic, The Big House has continued to offer a multitude of creative activities for its members and audiences. 2020 was the inaugural year of our creative development strand – Flex, offering a virtual introduction to writing and directing led by professional artist facilitators. The Big House also launched The Hot House which commissioned 5 members to write their first professional script.
In the autumn, we staged a four week run of a theatre piece, The Ballad of Corona V, written by David Watson. We reinvented how an audience watches a play to protect live theatre and developed a unique model that took several bubbles of 6 people on a promenade performance at different time slots. The cast not only appeared in their individual scenes, but also cued the lights, sound and video as they performed. The performance was received with high praise from both audiences and critics.
Blue Elephant Theatre exists to provide artistic opportunities to those who may not otherwise have access to them, producing professional productions as well as high quality participatory programmes.
Blue Elephant has always been a creative support for both emerging artists and the local community, especially young people. When we first went into lockdown, a lot of our efforts revolved around pivoting our participation programmes online to the relief of children and adults alike (“You’ve made my lockdown” – participant “It makes them feel like not everything has imploded” – parent). Since then, we’ve launched several new programmes, including baby workshops run in both English with Spanish translators, an online and in-person summer school, a train in work programme for young facilitators, as well as returning to working with schools and creating workshops to reinforce literacy and numeracy skills through drama.
We aimed to support emerging artists as much as possible, initially reading, rewriting and offering advice on applications for emergency funding. We also ran different skill-based workshops, published our ‘Elephant Tips’ which rounded up offers from emerging artists during the lockdowns and launched our Artist Network, a new opportunity sharing network.
In the autumn, we were able to open up our building for more creative output and welcome back early career artists for rehearsals and filming projects. We commissioned five writers to create new monologues for Black History Month, which were filmed and shared online. We toured a Covid-secure Christmas show “Ruby and the Elves” to local nurseries, with Amelia Parillon reprising her role of Ruby the Reindeer from 2019’s Christmas show.
We celebrated our 21st birthday in June last year, celebrating the breadth of our work across the years – and by extension the impact of theatre at a time when venues were shut – and the contributions of our staff, trustees, volunteers, artists and participants in getting the theatre to where it is now. We also finally got an answer from our founder as to why we’re called the Blue Elephant!
The Bread & Roses theatre opened its doors on 25 August with Integrity Theatre’s show F**k Off, and was named the first London Pub Theatre to reopen post lockdown (LPT Magazine). The theatre operated with limited seating capacity with hygiene and physical distancing measures in place. Visiting companies were able to perform two shows a night alongside a favourable box office split to support them during this time.
This continued through until pubs & theatres had to shut once more and whilst capacity was at only 30% ticket sales were phenomenally good, with plenty of sold out shows, indicating people couldn’t wait to get back to the theatre. Furthermore, the theatre continuously offered the Playwrights Circle online from April onwards and was gratefully successful in raising funding, support and donations to secure its survival so far through the pandemic, towards hopefully a reopening later in 2021.
Chickenshed has carried on regardless of the pandemic. We have been releasing many of our past performances – and adding captions and also in many case, a description of the performance and how it was devised. Of course we locked down as soon as we were told to by the Government and we continued delivering our workshops, sessions and lessons to our 175 full time students who are taking their BTEC, Foundation Degree and BA (Hons) Degree courses at Chickenshed. We also continued with our Outreach projects online and as soon as we were able – back in the schools, colleges, PRUs etc. We started a TV Channel on YouTube for our very youngest audience with TalesTV and uploaded regular content. We rehearsed two shows for Christmas and were able to perform for two weeks, until the second lockdown, Mr Stink, adapted from David Walliams best-selling novel, and Christmas Tales – our wonderfully lively show for 0-7 years old. We were delighted that both shows sold out when they went on sale – proving that people want theatre in their lives!
On 3rd August 2020, the open air Garden Theatre was created in the beer garden at the Eagle pub in Vauxhall. Opening with the musical Fanny & Stella, it was the first Off West End live production to open since the National Lockdown in March and was the subject of a national news report on C4 News.
Attended by almost every national critic, led by The Observer and The Daily Telegraph, Fanny & Stella received three 5 star reviews, twelve 4 star reviews and a Break a Legger award. In addition, the Garden Theatre received the first OFFIE ONEOFF Special Award for creating live theatre “against the odds”.
Going from strength to strength with further productions, the outdoor venue had to close for Tier 3 restrictions but then re-opened again for a traditional pantomime created for an adult audience, FROSTBITE – who pinched my muff? receiving 7 x 5 Star Reviews before being prematurely closed by Lockdown #3.
The Stage Top 100 list in January 2020 listed The Garden Theatre: “in the height of lockdown, under Peter Bull Artistic Director and Richard Lambert Executive Producer, the first sustained run of a show in the capital since stages shut, and Broadway… we salute those who have brought live performances to audiences – through bravery, determination and innovation.”
The Garden Theatre will re-open as soon as allowed with an extensive programme of productions.
This venue was opened in October 2020 by Michael Kingsbury from the White Bear Theatre. It is a hundred seater venue (with its own bar) in Camberwell. An opening season was programmed from October 2020, which included a revival of Mark Lockyer’s acclaimed one man show Living With The Lights On – which played to capacity houses at The Young Vic Studio -and a new play Howerd’s End by Mark Farrelly (directed by Joe Harmston). The theatre hosted Ameena Hamid’s R and D work for Eating Myself, which was funded by The Arts Council and live streamed at the end of October, and will facilitate development work by Temi Majeckodumi and award winning Kummerspect when the venue reopens.
All three shows between 13 and 31 October played to capacity houses (reduced to 45) and the venue received recognition in the press, with features in the Guardian, The Stage , Time Out (and other online publications). They were intrigued (and excited) by this new addition to the London scene, and were impressed that this could be achieved in the context of an epidemic. The overhaul and upgrade of the space took place over a six month period, and required the building of a bespoke stage, a substantial lighting rig as well as a complete overhaul of the existing bar area and new (illuminated) signage at the front of the venue.
It was a joy to welcome back our audiences in August, as we put on Iris Summer Festival 2020 – an outdoor celebration of live performances, with a little bit of something for everyone : from music and spoken word to new plays and musicals. The festival opened with Dear Peter, written and performed by Evangeline Dickson. The next up was a Work-in-Progress performance of Words I’ve Said by Asa Haynes and Jesse Bateson. Wild Geese Theatre’s Fiona & The Fox moved children and adults alike with their storytelling, music and puppetry. We also had a free all day event Platform – In the Garden, which was filled with music and spoken word. The festival finished with a brand new British folk musical St. Anne Comes Home by Jack Miles. Dear Peter and Platform-in the Garden performances have also been released online on a pay-what-you-can basis.
In November, we were pleased to host Potential Difference’s Signal Fires event in November, one of a series of productions that was being presented nationwide last autumn. In December, we presented The Snow Queen – a unique and interactive theatrical event created especially for Zoom. Between May and December 2020, we also delivered our new training and development scheme for early-career theatre directors called startDIRECTING, which was delivered via Zoom. The scheme merged a wide range of learning, from detailed text analysis, design process, working with professional actors, industry Q&As and practical work placements. Our five participants grew in confidence, knowledge and skill and we look forward to continue to offer informal guidance and support in their next stage of development.
JST offers A Cup of JSTea, free phone calls, and online social events to isolated audience members, it hosts free online social and career development events for theatre freelancers.
When theatres closed in March 2020, Little Angel Theatre sprang into action, and with the help of their creative staff team and talented freelancers had already launched a programme of online stories and puppet making tutorials for children within one week of the theatre closing. They have gone on to host 19 free online productions (including the viral I Want My Hat Back series which had almost 300,000 views, and Offies-nominated There’s A Bear On My Chair and Clever Cakes); produce two zoom shows; and even managed to put on an in-person Puppet Picnic festival in August 2020.
While the theatre building is closed, Park Theatre in London’s Finsbury Park continues to connect with those in its community living with dementia, with its Reminiscence group now being virtual.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was the first major theatre to re-open during the pandemic with ‘live’ performances, leading the way in how to deliver rehearsals, performances, ticketing and audience management in line with government regulations. We provided 140 jobs, including 70 freelancers and performers.
The government’s announcement that theatres could reopen happened on 9 July. We announced Jesus Christ Superstar: The Concert – a restaged, socially distanced version of our Evening Standard Award winning production – on 15 July, including full comprehensive details of how we would offer a Covid-secure experience (this became the blueprint for the ‘See It Securely’ scheme developed by SOLT which was rolled out in September). Tickets for Superstar went on sale on 20 July, with the first performance on 31 July. Therefore, the period from the government’s announcement to our first performance was just 22 days.
During this time, we worked with Spektrix to develop a ticketing system which maximised our audience capacity, which was reduced in the auditorium from 1256 seats to just 390 to allow for social distancing. This system was then available for other theatres to utilise. We launched our Superstar On-Screen initiative to offer additional tickets to see the production relayed ‘live’ on a giant LED screen on our lawn.
We also produced a season of MOREoutdoor events comprising of comedy gigs from Rob Beckett, Russell Brand, Mischief Theatre, Joe Lycett, Kerry Godliman, Judi Love and Russell Kane. Canned Laughter also presented a comedy fundraiser for London’s food banks featuring Lolly Adefope, Sara Barron, Gabby Best, Sophie Duker, Jess Fostekew, Olga Koch, Mae Martin, Suzi Ruffell, Sindhu Vee, Phil Wang.
Across the summer we played to 28,014 audience members in the auditorium plus 3,103 on the lawn – a total of 31,117 customers. 57% of our auditorium audience were first time attenders; 62% of the audience on the lawn, paying £10 or £20 for their tickets, were first time attenders.
With superb social distancing measures in place, they picked up the pre-lockdown run of The Last Five Years quite brilliantly and, with the threat of Lockdown 2 hanging over everyone, very sensibly put contingency plans in place and, short notice notwithstanding, switched to genuinely live relays from their smaller stage.
The Albany has continued to support all sections of its community including activity boxes and a radio show for older residents, courses, podcasts, and online commissions for young artists at the start of their careers, and making its buildings available for essential services.
The Space continued to operate throughout the pandemic. Thanks to a £35k emergency grant from ACE we were able to launch Locked Down, Looking Up, an online programme of play readings, workshops, digital performances and a theatre club. Having received over 200 scripts in January, we held 13 new play readings over zoom through our ScriptSpace development programme and re-opened the window for submissions in November, 2 months earlier than normal. We delivered 30 online participatory workshops over 6 workshops courses, covering topics such as Theatre and Activism and Clowning and Improvisation. We commissioned 3 companies, that had been due to perform at the Space, to create an online version of their work.
We created the Space Theatre Club, where we discussed plays that we’d watched online, alongside special guests from the original productions. Our guests included Patsy Ferran, Adrian Scarborough, Souad Faress, Adam Gillen, Tunji Kasim, Carl Grose and Nina Raine. We commissioned 8 playwrights to write duologues to be performed on zoom in our 2.0 Fest, 4 of the plays received OnComm awards.
Locked Down, Looking Up promoted positive mental health, employed over 100 freelance creatives and attracted audience members/participants from Singapore, Canada, South Africa and Argentina, amongst others. We followed this up in the Autumn with 5 weeks of socially distanced performances at the venue, also streamed live online, creating an online play about mental health as part of Queen Mary University’s Conversations project and hosting an online Q and A with Sir Ian McKellen (still available to watch on our Facebook page!).
We finished the year by reviving one of our past Christmas shows as an interactive online play. When you add in our monthly Playwright/Director Meet-Ups, Virtual Open House events and launch nights, we’ve held over 100 online events between March and December 2020. Plus, we’re live on Facebook every Monday at 5pm!
The Yard in Hackney Wick has been very active in its community during the lockdown. Not only has it convened an E20 response group, bringing together housing providers, voluntary organisations and local authorities to identify local need and respond to, support and connect residents, the team has also helped to organise the first online Hackney Wick Town Hall for local residents to empower its local community to rebuild. Other activities include coordinating volunteers to deliver food and shopping locally and establishing a group of phone buddies making calls to isolated or lonely local residents.
Within weeks of COVID forcing theatres to go dark, The Tower Theatre Company assembled a team to produce a fortnightly podcast to keep their members and audiences connected. The magazine style episodes feature interviews and discussions with theatre practitioners covering a range of topics including live Foley, adapting for the stage, and puppetry. Each episode concludes with a radio drama, platforming the very best of Tower talent and new writing, and every fortnight a Listeners’ Question invites contributions from listeners of their own theatrical stories and views.
The October series celebrated Black History Month while special Takeover episodes celebrate Black Female voices in the Arts, exploring themes of diversity and cultural inclusion, and highlighting the role of community theatre in actively participating and producing work for wider audiences. Published on multiple platforms, Tower Podcast episodes have, so far, had over 2,000 plays and reached audiences across the globe from ages 18–80.
Running alongside this, the Tower also set up an online performance initiative called Virtual Tower. In a bid to stay connected, the company, like many others, turned to Zoom for play readings during the first lockdown. Concentrating on out of licence material and new writing from members, Virtual Tower soon had an impressive roster of writers, performers, directors and technical whizzes. In a quest to push the boundaries of the (then) new medium, within a few weeks these events became much more than ‘readings’ – before long performances were introducing props, costumes, scenery, music, sound effects, slide presentations and video to enhance the production values, delighting its loyal following of audience members who regularly tune in. Virtual Tower is now in its 3rd Season and had more than 100 people log in on the last occasion. Whether Season Four will happen remains in the lap of the Covid gods, but considering the whole enterprise was only supposed to last a few weeks, the Virtual Tower team feels extremely proud of reaching their thirtieth performance.
We were the first venue to bring back live shows to the heart of Waterloo in over 6 months. In September we opened a ‘pop up’ open air venue called Alfresco, located in a local school courtyard one minute from our main building, in which we presented a season of cabaret and plays to socially distanced audiences. The venue was created from scratch using all the facilities from the main building, and proved to be a huge success. I employed three freelances for the period and all artistes were paid. The season completely sold out and we would have extended the season had the weather not changed in October! There are now plans to bring it back this Summer.
The White Bear presented 7 one week productions between 23 September and 9 December and was one of the earliest theatres in the country to present live shows after the first lockdown (with 40 per-cent capacity) in this period. We felt it vitally important that companies continued to develop and perform new work, as long as this could achieved in a way that adhered to strict safety criteria. To that end we produced a ‘walkthrough video’ demonstrating what the audience member would experience as the they walked in to the bar and the various stages thereafter, including ordering a drink, temperature check, and socially distanced seating.