Edgy and elated: how theatre workers feel about curtain-up during Covid

As more venues begin to welcome back audiences, casts and crew are returning to live performance but many are considering leaving the stage industry

In the six months since they closed due to the pandemic, theatres have been wrapped in pink ribbon, lit up in red or simply left boarded up. More than 5,000 jobs have been lost, with redundancy consultations ongoing across the country; 70 per cent of theatres face permanent closure. The West End, reliant on tourism that the crisis has all but expunged, is an economic time-bomb. A significant proportion of freelance creatives have received no government support.

According to a recent report, the arts and entertainment industry has 51% of its workforce furloughed. With the scheme expected to end in October, before theatres are likely to fully open, many of those could join the droves of unemployed creative workers. In what has become the government’s modus operandi – bouts of ghosting, followed by a sudden announcement – culture secretary Oliver Dowden has suggested that theatres may be able to properly reopen by Christmas. Under plans he calls “Sleeping Beauty” – signifying panto season, and Prince Dowden giving distressed theatres the “kiss of life” – audiences will be tested for Covid in advance, and chased up days after the show. The fairytale here seems to be how theatres are expected to reopen at the snap of a finger – as though the government thinks all it takes are planks of wood, lights and some Shakespeare sonnets.

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