The New Normal?
Now that 19 July (or ‘Freedom Day’) has come and gone – albeit delayed by four weeks – and all social restrictions in England (with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland following suit asap) we can begin to start the arduous journey of getting our theatres back to some kind of recognisable format, of how they used to be… (whatever guise the ‘new normal’ decides to take).
The need for social distancing and the use of facemasks has been eradicated – despite the infection rates going through a third wave – thanks to the NHS’s efficient rollout of the vaccine programme across the UK. If your invited to and able then please, please, please take the vaccine.
For us, this of course means that our auditoriums can, once again, enjoy 100% capacity audiences. Well, that’s the theory anyway. In reality, we’ll need to make sure our audiences are confident to come through our doors again and, in addition, convince our casts and crews that, not only are our rehearsal rooms but also our close-knit dressing rooms and performance spaces, safe places to be.
All of this won’t be easy and arguably won’t come overnight, especially as the mixed messaging from the UK Government tells us that while legal restrictions have now been lifted, we are also encouraged to keep wearing masks and socially distancing when convening in crowded spaces or whenever we feel the situation might require it.
Nevertheless, we can be encouraged by the fact that many of our members, from both sides of the curtain, have already expressed a deep desire to return as quickly as possible. With some societies already well into rehearsals. This can be seen on page six where we have listed a snapshot of productions around the British Isles that have already been announced.
Likewise, the professional theatre industry has already announced its intention to reopen with dates being listed everywhere it would seem. You only need to look at our regular Strike Up the Band! pages to see what we mean. Mind you, with the professional sector involving big money, with many shows reopening as soon as legally permitted, some big productions had to quickly close again due to a member of the company testing positive in a daily Covid test.
Such victims included Cinderella – with Andrew Lloyd Webber being particularily vocal in his dismay, Hairspray at the London Coliseum, Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe and Wonderville at the Palace Theatre.
In an attempt to avoid similar situations arising we are all, almost certainly, going to need to show some kind of NHS ‘Vaccine Passport’ or proof of immunity to enter any kind of auditorium to see a show in the future – by law.
That means no passport, no entry. Which is likely to be part of the new normal for some considerable time to come. (Another is waiting for the banks to revert back to their previous closing times… or stick with their new 2pm deadline forever!)
Meanwhile, welcome to only our second back-to-print edition of Sardines and what has fast-become a bit of a Heathers The Musical special. Not only is our latest cover star the returning Jodie Steele as Heather Chandler, but we also feature a chat with Paul Taylor-Mills, half of the Heathers production team.
Paul speaks very fondly of his strong amateur theatre roots.
Paul & Fariba x
We’re Nearly There…
Well, as long as the government doesn’t decide to move the goalposts just before the final whistle, we should now be exactly three weeks away from removing all social distancing, not only in theatres, but everywhere.
That, of course, may end up being the easy bit. Rebuilding the public confidence we require to not only fill our auditoriums again, and, our rehearsal rooms… may take a little longer. But it can happen. It will happen. We promise you.
Fairly recently Mr Sardines made it to the West End for his first review in over a year. Admittedly, it felt weird at first. I was being very ‘British’, looking around at the socially distanced audience and tutting at those who were much more keen to throw caution to the wind. In reality, this is a process we all need to go through. We must break the ice and get around people once more. It’s a good job the review didn’t require too much deep thinking; and the cast of ABBA Mania at the Shaftesbury Theatre looked genuinely thrilled to be performing in front of a real-life auditorium full of people again, rather than another computer screen.
I think we’ve all probably had enough of Zoom to last a lifetime, and aren’t we quick to forget how modern technology has succeeded in keeping us in touch with each other for the previous fourteen months.
What a life-saver it has been. In fact, it’s technology and social media that has been the big difference between losing 50million people one hundred years ago and suffering a much reduced death rate of 3.5million throughout this latest global pandemic. Well, that and our NHS delivering the vaccine to us!
This new edition of Sardines represents our return-to-print as we attempt to make our own way back to some kind of normality. It was an interesting debate, whether to use the time in ‘lockdown’ to grow our online audience (coinciding with the new website) to the point where we might even consider ditching the entire print version altogether. But in the end it was a no-brainer.
We’re all quick to moan at the banks for possibly moving their closing hours forward on a more permanent basis – arguably using the excuse of in an extension of ‘lockdown’. But we believe that people still want a physical magazine to pick up, flick through and read. So here we are; but it will take some getting used to, just like it did in the West End a week ago.
When you think about it, as long as we’ve all had our two jabs each and been fully vaccinated, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t feel fully confident about rubbing shoulders in a theatre again. Even if we need to show a ‘passport’ or negative test result to get in. We’ve all been through so much; this next step ought to be a walk in the park in comparison.
Of course, being our first printed edition in fourteen months does mean you have a packed issue. With the professional theatre industry desperate to reopen, all we amateurs need to do is hold on the their coat-tails to follow suit. It might just take a bit longer for us to catch up, that’s all.
So, let’s not blow it now. Let’s relish all the things we’ve discovered over the last year and bring it into this new normal. By the way, if you do need some help with the new website just google ‘Sardines Magazine YouTube’ and watch our tutorials.
Email us at email@example.com with your thoughts (and shoutouts).
Paul & Fariba
As the UK Government brings England out of lockdown tomorrow (2 Dec), the population has been given a new tougher set of restrictions (tiers) of which 99% of us have been put into the top two most stringent categories. Of course Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own set of rules which only succeed in adding more and more confusion to understanding how this affects the theatre sector.
At Sardines we really do try to keep politics out of our news but, as the pandemic continues to squeeze the life out of all of us, we are finding that this becomes extremely difficult with the daily updates directly affecting how we can or cannot operate.
From an amateur theatre perspective it would seem that nearly every non-professional theatre society, company and charity have now given up even trying to perform this side of the New Year. In fact, both amateur and professionals allocated to the highest (third) tier in England cannot perform indoors by law. This means that half of the previously announced pantos, some cancelled and then reinstated and being produced by Qdos (Birmingham, Newcastle, Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield and Notts) thanks to the National Lottery stepping in to add a financial rescue plan, cannot now go ahead either (see page 23).
Following a similar pattern, with the amateur theatre market still in hibernation, this issue of Sardines is another online-only edition. This means that the very fact that you’re reading this foreword must mean you have digital access to read and/or download the magazine.
If you think that others who you know might benefit from reading some of the things we have to say then please do email them a link to our website so they too can register and possibly subscribe.
Meanwhile, you’ll notice we haven’t featured a star name on our cover this time. Instead, a ghost light is seen in an empty auditorium – signifying the waiting for all this to be over. With the growing news of vaccines and increased testing capacities filling the airways, perhaps this will be sooner rather than later.
Not surprisingly, much of this second online-only edition features articles on dealing with the affects of Covid-19. Not least of all the latest results of our recent survey (see page 4), where the final, and open, question drew some fascinating comments.
Dave Hollander also writes a major piece titled Am-dram Versus Covid. This champions the non-professional sector’s resilience to the situation of not being able to perform for much of 2020.
Another article focuses on the unique position the Isle of Man finds itself in (page 18). With its own government and positioned just 191 miles from the english mainland, the Isle of Man is once more enjoying playing to full houses (social distancing has not been a requirement since the summer!). We, in the rest of the UK, can only dream of returning to such times.
Our regular Your News section – featuring all kinds of stories from both amateur and professional companies as well as news about youth, students and graduates – is a bumper 24-page special this time around. See page 30 to read this.
Lastly, but definitely not least, may we wish you all a merry Christmas as we prepare to wave goodbye to the worst year in most of our lifetimes. As we do, let’s hope that the New Year does indeed bring us a renewed hope that we can kick this virus into touch for good. Then, perhaps… just perhaps, we can all get back to doing what we love so much.
Stay safe, stay well, we WILL be back!
Paul & Fariba
Hands up if you’ve ever experienced a year like this before?
We must presume the entire amateur theatre sector is firmly sitting on its hands right now. Monday, 16th March seems an awfully long time ago now doesn’t it. That was the day our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, advised “everyone in the UK against ‘non-essential’ travel and contact with others as well as to work from home if possible and avoid visiting social venues such as pubs, clubs or theatres. The rest, as they say, is history.
Unfortunately, five months later, nearly every theatre in the country is still closed. A few of you are bravely mounting outdoor productions and one or two professional companies are taking part in the Government’s pilot scheme to see if social distancing works when applied to indoor venues. However, since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium test on Saturday, 25th July, which featured the talents of Beverley Knight singing to 25% of the theatre’s capacity (all wearing facemasks throughout and not allowed to sing along), where the Good Lord himself said to the audience, “I have to say this is a rather sad sight,” the results are academic.
Sardines hasn’t printed an issue since no.48 (April/May) which, by the way may become something of a collector’s item and has now completely sold out! Therefore, we would like to welcome you to this special ‘lockdown’ edition to see us through to the end of November. Despite us sending out a new weekly ‘lockdown update’ newsletter every Friday (we’re already on no.20! – sign up at www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk) the simple truth is we’ve been collecting and receiving too many articles and interviews NOT to do anything with them.
This issue is published online only and coincides with the launch of our brand-new website. So, if you’re reading this then you must have digital access. You can comfortably read every article and feature on a PC, tablet or mobile phone. Your digital access even gives you the ability to download, not only a PDF of this issue, but every single edition we have ever published.
The plan, at the moment, is to get back to our print edition for the Dec/Jan slot. However, if the reopening of theatres hasn’t progressed much further than the current stalemate – and it already looks like we’ve lost December’s pantomime season (turn to page 64) – the festive issue may also need to be online only. Watch this space! (as they say.)
Paul & Fariba, Sardines’ Editors
Is it us or does time pass more quickly in theatre?
We wish our new website would arrive as fast. We promise it’s on the way but, apparently, the delay is all to do with data transfer. More on that as it happens.
By tradition we bring you our annual Panto Special; twenty-seven pages of information and advice to help you with your plans for the next festive season’s production.
If you have sent in some photos you may even find your society on our photo spread.
The other staple of the amateur theatre diet is, of course, farce. This issue’s cover story brings you our interview with one of the stars of John Cleese’s new masterpiece, Bang Bang!, Tessa Peake-Jones – known to millions as, Raquel, long-suffering wife of Peckham’s Del Trotter in Only Fools and Horses. As well as Bang Bang! Tessa talks about those ‘Only Fools…’ days and how she mastered the art of comedy, working with the best.
Paul & Fariba