The real cost of cinema closures
It turns out that if there’s one thing more expensive than doing theater, it’s not doing it. Empty buildings drain money. Postponing a show already in rehearsal or raising the curtain to be dropped soon after – as happened in December when theaters reopened a few days later – scares investors and confuses audiences. (I could also say that being unable to come together as a community to make sense of the world through stories is costly, not just financially. But then I’m a pretentious playwright.) No, what we have need is to start filling our diaries. again with plays, musicals, comedies and concerts. What the performing arts need is certainty.
The government’s decision to expand Covid restrictions means keeping audience capacity at 50%. I’m not a foreclosure skeptic, and there’s nothing more important than people’s safety, but most shows need over 80% to break even, and producers have had to switch. their call months ago. Cinderella needs a dress sewn up for the ball, and Iago repeats time to concoct his evil plans. Not to mention the 200,000 freelance theater writers who have been without an income for over a year and just need to work. Driven by the deployment of the vaccine, most producers have bet on the government’s original roadmap. They should. Our theaters hadn’t been closed for so long since the Interregnum (even though it was puritanism, not the plague).
And oh what happiness it brought me to return to a theater this week – places of magic! Wonder! Provocation ! Love! So-so wine! At the National Theater for Milk Undergrowth in the Olivier auditorium, named after its founder and designed in the spirit of the Greek amphitheater. An imposing civic space for large public plays. I was lucky enough to have a show here when I was still young and wide-eyed; This house, on the Westminster parliamentary shenanigans of the 1970s. This week, however, under Covid restrictions, one of the country’s largest theaters was reconfigured as a round robin, with socially distant headquarters surrounding Welsh actor Michael Sheen, who fills the vast space with no set or props, painting an entire community of characters with little more than just speech (admittedly Dylan Thomas lyrics, so, you know, pretty good). Playwright Siân Owen gave the play a modern twist, placing it – appropriately, given last year’s tragedy – in a nursing home, where the protagonist tries to restore the memory of his ailing father. and other residents with a trip back in time. way. The most moving moment comes at the end, when the biggest action was the smallest, as the father hugged his son. It’s an act many missed – even more than the theater.
Lord Lloyd-Webber recently became an unlikely activist and even a near-anarchist, as he flirted with prison to break the restrictions on his new musical. He joined with industry figures in suing the government to release the results of the events research program, which they curiously got stuck on. Why? Well, it turns out that maybe it wasn’t because the results were bad, but because they were too good. Pilot programs for large events have been a resounding success, with measures such as staggered entry times leading to just 28 reported Covid cases out of 58,000 attendees across all events. Theaters are safe, and they’re ready for all of us.
What about football? Well all ‘sport’, for which ‘culture’ shares the Secretary of State’s brief. As big tent events like Silverstone and the Wimbledon final get the green light to play at full capacity, is it true that the government thinks there is more political capital to be played on the terraces than on the stalls? That said, I have reserved my seats in front of giant ad screens throughout Euro 2020. I have no time for those who pit allegedly “blue collar” sporting events against the falsely framed “l” arts. ‘liberal elite’. I come from a working class community. My family was the first to introduce me to pantos and musicals. And what is an English match if not pure drama, the continuation of national stories?
What theater and sport prove is the vital need for collective experiences. I could watch a cheaper Euro game at home and I wouldn’t have to stand in line to use the bathroom. But I want to be among strangers. That’s the beauty of live events – we can see ourselves as part of a community, if only briefly. In times of division, no government should underestimate their importance.
James Graham’s last play, The best of enemies, is at Young Vic in December. Tickets are on sale now.