How are theatres helping the fight against Coronavirus?
We cannot wait for the day that West End theatres reopen again. Even though it’s not looking like it’ll be for a little while yet, theatre owners are doing all they can to speed up the process and have us all in the auditorium before we can say “Coronavirus.”
Up and down the country, theatres are being used as vaccination and testing centres, as well as prolific producers stating their support for all initiatives. Here’s all the latest information on how theatres are helping the fight against Coronavirus. This is before Boris Johnson's Coronavirus roadmap on 22 February, which may detail the future of West End theatres.
Which venues are currently used as vaccination centres?
In an article from The Telegraph, several theatres have joined the NHS to act as vaccination centres.
The Lights (Andover): Prior to the pandemic, The Lights was a local venue for blood donor sessions. They became a vaccine hub on 22 December. Speaking to The Telegraph, director Heather Whittam said: “We’re quite lucky – we have a large arena space… it was just a case of clearing that out so they could set up the stations for vaccinations… we put on music in the background, which is soothing for those who are anxious.”
Thornton Little Theatre (Thornton-Cleveleys): Thornton Little Theatre was first approached in September last year to provide space for a flu vaccination programme for three local GP surgeries, beginning with the over-65s. Janet Heald events and front-of-house manager for Wyre Theatres said: “it’s spacious, it’s on a good bus route, and we’ve got great parking facilities.”
Hertford Theatre (Hertford): Their spacious auditorium had already been used to host blood donations and flu vaccines, so they became a site for the Pfizer vaccine in December. Director Rhys Thomas said: “[theatres as vaccination centres] keeps venues on people’s radars, keeps staff on the payroll, and keeps the blood coursing through the veins of the building. And it’s important that theatres play their part – those that can. Obviously, some older buildings are quite compact internally or have bolted-down seating.”
G Live (Guildford): G Live is now used as a vaccination centre, hoping to vaccinate around 8,000 individuals each week.
In an article from The Stage, even circus big tops are willing to lend their performance spaces as vaccination centres. The article states: "Circus Extreme, Continental Circus Berlin and the Circus of Horrors have all offered their touring big tops and equipment." What a fun place to get vaccinated!
Andrew Lloyd Webber has spoken about using theatres as vaccination centres
Arguably one of the leaders in restarting theatres, Andrew Lloyd Webber has encouraged the use of his theatres to support the pandemic. Throughout 2020, Lloyd Webber participated in trials and often spoke out in support of creatives. In an interview with The Telegraph, he would be willing to turn his theatres into vaccination centres for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve all got to double our efforts and not take our eye off the ball.” said Webber, continuing to say that everyone “must continue to make our buildings as hygienic and safe as possible to complement everything else that’s happening.” If he’s ever contacted to use his theatres, “we’ll have our buildings ready.” A confident, assured approach from Andrew Lloyd Webber is definitely a confident step forward.
As well as opening theatres and vaccination centres, Andrew Lloyd Webber has been vocal in testing chemical substances to speed up theatres reopening. In an article from The Independent, Webber has spent months "lobbying the government to test the chemical triethylene glycol (TEG)" but has been parked by governmental independent advisory body Sage as there's little evidence to suggest TEG can reduce airborne transmission of coronavirus.
In an interview with BBC Radio 2, Webber spoke of The Phantom of the Opera's London return. He said: "It's going to be when it comes back, better than ever. We've been able to do things to the theatre to make it even more Phantom-like." You can listen to the interview here.
Could theatres be ventilated with Covid in mind?
Although British theatres are shut for the foreseeable future, important studies are taking place to keep theatres ventilated. In an article from The Stage, the Arcola Theatre is working with Imperial College London to explore how air quality in theatres can spread airborne viruses. Consequently, results about ventilated theatres will help guide the Arcola's new outdoor performance space. All work is done with the safety of theatregoers in mind, hopefully getting us back to the theatre soon.
Kenny Wax will wait until vaccines have been widely given
British theatre production company Kenny Wax productions is behind shows including Six and The Play That Goes Wrong. In an interview with The Stage, Kenny Wax stated his reluctancy to stage West End shows until a vast proportion of the country is vaccinated against Coronavirus. He said: "I don’t agree with the sentiment that once we get to the end of April and all over-50s are done that is fine, as I have a responsibility to my cast... Even if the over-50s have been vaccinated by May, most of our cast members and a high percentage of our audience are under 50, so how can we put them all at risk?"
A centralised Covid testing site will be set up
Nimax Theatres have definitely paved the way for reopening the West End. Last autumn, all six Nimax Theatres were open again with new productions and returning shows. When theatres open again, a centralised Covid-19 testing hub will be opened for all Nimax Theatres staff and performers. In an interview with The Stage, Nica Burns praised earlier trials. “Previously, the company had operated a Covid testing site from the Palace Theatre, where a nurse gave nasal swabs to anyone working on productions at its venues… every theatre was only a 10-minute walk to the Palace.” Nimax Theatres includes: Apollo Theatre, Duchess Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Palace Theatre, Vaudeville Theatre.
With the announcement of a centralised testing site, this bodes well for keeping all West End performers and audiences safe against Coronavirus.
Boris Johnson has also spoke about the importance of testing audience members. In a press conference on 15 February, Johnson said: "What we are thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination…plus lateral flow testing, rapid testing for those bits of the economy that are the toughest nuts to crack, such as nightclubs or theatres."
Could new theatres be built with social distancing in mind?
With social distancing very much part of the “new normal”, could theatres have to incorporate it as part of their building plans? That’s what the Vertical Theatre has in mind. Hailed as a future-proof live performance venue, the Vertical Theatre will see audiences sit in groups and have built-in global streaming capacity. The Vertical Theatre Group founders have said they’re "devoted to the vital importance of arts and culture… We are very excited to be able to bring this innovative new venue offering to the live entertainment world at this pivotal moment for the future of the arts."
What could vaccinations mean for the future of West End theatres?
With the rate of vaccinations increasing exponentially, hope for a West End reopening is looking closer and closer each day. Currently, all West End theatres are closed due to a national lockdown, with no confirmed reopening date. It is likely that West End theatres will be given the green light to reopen once London is marked as a “tier two” area, but it is unknown when this could happen.
If vaccinations continue at the rate they are, the future of West End theatres look bright, with lots of shows opening in the near future. Here’s a list of all the West End shows we’re looking forward to in 2021.