For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur


Your Latest Thoughts…

It’s been a while since we asked for your thoughts on how the latest Covid-19 / Coronavirus restrictions have been affecting the theatre sector, and how you see us getting out of this mess.
So, about a month ago we posed nine questions ranging from social distancing and the possibility of reopening to possible vaccines and getting back to normal.

We ended our longest-ever survey by asking for your personal (and anonymous) thoughts on the whole sorry situation; the result of which threw up some intelligent, emotional and fascinating opinions.
You’ll see we have included the entire list of results over the next six pages – including your opinions from question no.9. These independent opinions are shown in white text against purple backgrounds.

Those of you who also read The Stage newspaper might have seen the recent article on amateur theatre written by Dave Hollander titled: Amateur dramatics and Covid: ‘We keep going against the odds’ (Dave has also written a similar piece inside this edition of Sardines on page 10). Well, the article not only quotes Sardines’ Editor, Paul Johnson, it also uses some of the data from this very survey.

The bottom line is that as we all wait with bated breath for an end to this year’s horrendous nightmare, we should appreciate that as ‘hobbyists’ (as we are often referred to – even though it feels like much more than that to most of us, most of the time), on an amateur theatre footing, nearly all of us will eventually be able to resume where we left off in one form or another.

In comparison, imagine if we relied on making theatre to keep our very careers alive! Ignoring the fact that at Sardines we’re in both camps; the amateur theatre sector and trying to keep our theatre-related careers afloat, many industry professionals, both backstage and in the spotlight, are freelancing self-employed workers who haven’t worked or been paid since March 2020.

Additional independent and anonymous comments from Q.9.

‘HAVE YOU ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD?’ Here is a selection:

  • I am sure diehard supporters will return, though our audience isn’t getting any younger. Pantomime will return to popularity but a socially distanced audience isn’t viable for us, unless we really trim our budget, which would detract from the spectacle.
  • Treating amateur and professional theatre differently seems illogical, just like the varying lockdown rules. I understand the rules – they’re just illogical.
  • Our Theatre is comparatively small (150 seats) and putting on performances with social distancing would be very difficult. We have produced two 30 minute plays which were filmed and will be going out to our members shortly. We are also working on some short radio plays for transmission to our members.
  • Most of our cast and crew are over 60. This also includes people with health conditions and so forth. Added to this, most of our audience are 70 plus with the younger ones being family, friends, work colleagues of the cast/crew. So whichever way you look at it, many groups which fall into this category are struggling to keep going. We have quizzes via Zoom each week since July time but at beginning of lockdown, everything was cancelled. We have been keeping in …touch via social media too but this is not something that all our members use. The Agm was held via zoom and was probably last time all if not most of the society were together on screen. We are now doing readings etc and have attempted a play reading on zoom just within our society. Everyone is trying to keep positive. Some of us are busy still working but for the retired members, amdram is a lifeline and important social activity. Zoom is fine but sometimes it’s not enough and we cannot form bubbles to meet up either. Sheffield is now in tier 3 so everyone is remote and activities as normal may not resume for sometime. Sadly one of our members suddenly passed on this month. It’s a huge shock. How the group moves on now is very fragile and with care to the bereaving family. Amdram is family for many people so we wait and see what happens.
  • With no vaccine, we will all have to accept the risk of covid and get on with life. Social distancing is impossible in theatres.
  • Strictly follow the advice from the Government and stay safe. It is the quickest way out of this crisis.
  • I miss performing.
  • Further advice is needed for amateur theatres and youth workshops in Wales. Lack of help from local authority.
  • Question 8 needs another option. No – but the government now needs to create a clear, countrywide fixed timetable of alternate lockdown and new normalcy.
  • By day I work for the NHS. We are running to standstill. It will take us many years to recover from the lockdown earlier this year and if we want to prevent a USA healthcare system coming, we need to protect our NHS.
  • We need to get theatre moving again.
  • Have been meeting regularly as a theatre on line, nearly 60% of members have been involved in some capacity – quizzes, play Reading, zoom games, etc but no performance.
  • I think amateur companies will be a key driver in getting audiences back into the theatre and enable professional companies to gauge when it is safe to invest in their own productions. Amateurs don’t have the overheads of professional companies so it is less financially risky for us to get a show ready that we may not ultimately be able to perform in the booked slot if we have a local lockdown, for example, or we end up performing to reduced numbers. As for the audience members …themselves, it is less risky to spend £10 – £20 on ticket for a local amateur production that you don’t get to see (because you suddenly have to quarantine, maybe) rather than lose £80+ on a ticket to a professional show. Once we are at a point that amateur companies have been successfully putting on shows to decent size audiences for a while I think the pro market will take heart and burst back to life. With this in mind, it would REALLY HELP if licence holders offered incentives to amateur companies to take a risk on shows that are most likely to appeal to larger audiences as this is probably not the time for experimentation. As an example, one of the things that regularly frustrates me with licence holder T&Cs is around promotional material, having to pay extra for authorised logos and graphics then work your way through reams of fineprint over how credits should be presented / comparative font size etc. It would be SO MUCH EASIER if licence holders created templates with all of the authorised graphics / logos and required credits in place that amateur companies could adapt with the details of their own local productions.
  • I’m full of admiration for both prof. and amateur theatres for their initiative during this very difficult time. Governments (not only this one) have never fully understood the vital importance of Theatre (and the Arts in general) for the happiness and wellbeing of us all. If they did they would help the Arts Sector a lot more …and in turn would help us.
  • It is a very real situation and a game changer which will take years to resolve.
  • Of the choirs that I am one has started meeting in a ‘Covid safe’ environment. This one is a charity and 27 people have sung together in person. Another is a business run by the conductor which has met as above but with fewer people. An outdoor concert is planned. The other choir is in the British Museum and may be allowed to restart in Jan 2021. In other groups I have performed with there have been play readings, quizzes and various Zoom meetings eg AGMs.
  • Why have Non professionals with their own theatres to run been treated differently to Professionals?
  • Theatre will survive, theatres shutdown during plague years in Shakespeare’s day and WW2 shutdown many.
  • The Government’s approach to the whole pandemic has been confusing, complicated and contradictory. Amateur theatre should be allowed to operate in the same way as professional theatre is, and indeed as other local community activities (such as sports) are. There is greater risk from keeping us closed down than from allowing us to open with sensible precautions in place.
  • I sincerely hope that either a vaccine or medication will be found which will mean that this virus is not the killer that it has been over the past 8 months.
  • In addition to being an active member of a local group, I run youth theatres both professionally and as a volunteer. We have continued to run both sets of youth theatre throughout the pandemic, but I am not sure how the government expects hobbyists to continue to make good use of their conflicting guidance, it is frustrating enough when I have the support of colleagues and salary to spend time going through it all.
  • I think the government has mismanaged the whole Coronavirus pandemic. I also think they have dismissed the needs of freelance artists – both professional and amateur. This is shortsighted as the creative and performing arts generate over £10 billion in yearly revenue and that sum will be lost if the performing arts industry is allowed to collapse. In terms of amateur companies, many of them rely on income from audiences to maintain their theatres so I totally feel for them too. And everyone involved in the arts is suffering from not being able to do their job and perform. It’s so sad and I feel so heartbroken for all performers, directors, writers and crew.
  • There should be more uniformity among restrictions for example why are people allowed to sit near one another on planes with face masks but not in theatres?
  • Getting advice that specifically relates to amateur societies has been extremely difficult and has just got worse with the ‘tiers’.
  • Until everyone feels safe and secure I cannot see audiences returning to the theatre that quickly. I think that we have to see the back broken of this virus before we see any going back to how it was before. I think we have a long stretch ahead of pure uncertainty.
  • We have put on weekly talks, via zoom, from current and past members to keep in touch with our membership.
  • Still angry and confused about why airlines can carry people sitting next to strangers but theatres can’t.
  • To justify my answer to Q9. Mask-wearing (audiences) Testing (cast) Would make theatre close to 100% safe.
  • Whilst I sympathise with the professionals in theatre, spare a thought for the amateur societies which were due to put on an expensive production just a week after lockdown. Money has already been paid out. Most of us do not have our own rehearsal space let alone our own theatre and are therefore at the mercy of not only covid 19 but also those venues which are currently denied to us. None of this has been taken into consideration. Whilst as amateurs we are not paid, our scenery provider, lighting crew, sound crew, orchestra, venue, etc., are professionals have to be paid. Some money up front, the rest is waiting for when we are able to put on a spectacular “Shrek, the Musical.”
  • Here on Isle of Man we have no Covid and live theatre is live and well after the initial lockdown which finished in June/July.
  • The anti culture stance from Government erodes public respect for the arts. All the while as they depend upon the. To make life worth living. We’re not cyber. We just don’t know it yet.
  • Amateurs must look to the professional theatre as a yardstick.
  • Let’s hope we can get back asap. We are planning for an open air production in May 2021 hopefully we can succeed!!!
  • People need to stop repeatedly postponing dates forward and accept that nothing will happen again until we all get the green light It is safe to do so.
  • There should be more support from MPs for the amateur theatre groups/societies. These are as valuable as professional ones.
  • Still not enough being done for the arts sector.
  • Theatre company may not recover from this virus, we are talking with the company for a neighbouring town about joining together in future, both companies have an ageing active members list and some are not going to return to perform on stage again.
  • Lack of support for the theatre industry has been disgusting. Comments about non-viable jobs is ludicrous.
  • This pandemic has absolutely ruined my business – stage scenery and props – I have earned £600 since March.
  • The quick turn round test is the answer and then we can all get back. There will always be some risk but that is life in general.
  • If cinemas can operate, and flights continue to all four corners of the earth, why can’t theatres open? We were due to perform in March 2020, but lockdown shut us down. We have continued to rehearse online, and were due to perform (with half an audience, socially distanced) in October, but cancelled again by the venue (government). As an amateur actor and theatre-goer myself, I haven’t booked to go anywhere since March 2020, as the government keep ‘pulling the plug’ overnight. Lockdown = lethargy, and reluctance to do anything because we can’t. So sorry for professional theatre, who are doing their best to restart, but are thwarted at every turn.
  • Thanks to a very loyal membership we have continued weekly meetings via Zoom and have a production in the final stages of preparation. As soon as we can access a space to rehearse face to face and the venue which we usually use for performances is available for high, we hope to put the production on. In the meantime we are preparing some videoed material to put on youtube.
  • It is really sad what has happened to our theatres. I hope that things will get better soon.
  • It is difficult to see both professional and amateur productions returning to anything like it was prior to Covid. A lot of freelancers are struggling, a number of equipment hire companies are folding as no doubt will some theatres and performance venues. l can foresee a number of amateur groups disbanding or possibly merging. 60 I am not scared to come back to theatre. But it would have to be something good. Most of what is around or coming is what was on before lockdown. We need new shows, as I have seen most of them. Would have gone to see Kathy Burke interviewed but tickets sold fast. More events like this that don’t cost much would be a good start to get people back.
  • Missing theatre so much at the moment. Worried that so many amateur societies have gone.
  • The Government, lmho, has not given enough support to theatre and music. It seems that pubs and restaurants are more important. Amateur theatre is classed as a hobby which is not essential.
  • As well as being an acting member of my group, I also help run our associated Youth Group. The regulations relating to Youth Groups is very confusing, especially as our group rehearse in a town on the border between Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire, with each county having different rules. Our youth members & helpers/production team live on both sides of that border & that means everything & everyone are under different rules. It’s a nightmare trying to wade through the regulations to see if we have to exclude anyone from our physical rehearsals. At the time of writing we believe that we can continue as we are (both our areas having recently come into line & are now in Tier 2), but it’s looking increasingly likely that our part of Nottinghamshire are going into Tier 3 next week, but with the rehearsal rooms & some members being in Derbyshire (& likely to stay in Tier 2) there will be more regulations to look through & try to interpret for our situation. Like most people & businesses, the regulations “one size fits all” rules do not help us at all.
  • Being a small company using a village hall we cannot put on our annual pantomime, the first time in over thirty years but we have to protect our members and audience.
  • Although local government guidelines are clear in general the restrictions for amateur performance are tricky to pin down. This includes choirs and musical performance.
  • Missing live performance massively – both as performer and audience. Total tragedy but life and health is more important.
  • The fight to get amateur theatre information from the minister was extremely frustrating. We were very lucky to have LTG fighting for us and keeping us updated at every stage.
  • Organisations could do more to lobby the government about the need for all types of theatre, both professional and amateur, in order to promote well-being.
  • I think both professional and amateur theatre are crucial to people’s wellbeing. However, I think amateur theatre groups need to be responsible at this time and not detract from professional theatre’s attempts to survive.
  • COVID-19 has made things very difficult and different. Our full-scale musical productions will be unviable for the time being with social distancing but it has given us an opportunity to embrace technology which we had been resistant to before. We celebrated our centenary last year and other than two years during WW2 we have always offered something for our membership. So far we’ve done Zoom choir rehearsals, socially-distanced performances from a front garden, youtube social pub quizzes, Zoom play readings, online poetry evenings, and have resumed socially-distanced rehearsals for our auditioned and community choir. We’re looking at staging online/ socially-distanced performances for Christmas.
  • It will be interesting to look back at the death numbers from the virus compared to average deaths from the flu, etc from past years. We may discover that the whole thing was “much ado about nothing.
  • We who keep theatre going at our own expense and for pure love of our art form, deserve support. But we wont get it, financially or otherwise, from the government. However, we are upholding the proud tradition of Burbage and Shakespeare, and that alone justifies our activity.