I’ve just had a most glorious week in a rehearsal room. Then, within the space of a four-hour call, with Hollywood heavyweight Kelsey Grammer, Gillian Bevan and Michael Praed… putting a scene together in act two of The Boy Friend – which was scheduled to play at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, Canada (under the banner of The Menier Chocolate Factory) – we were called up into the main studio and told by our wonderful producer, Paul Elliott, that forty-five minutes earlier the decision had been taken to close all of the Mirvish Theatres for the first time in their history due to the global Coronavirus situation. He had come straight to the rehearsal room to tell us all.
Unfortunately, because it was such a small call, much of the young company were not at rehearsals that day. Of course, there’s nothing worse than getting a message in your inbox – but the fact remains that we’re cancelled!
We probably knew the writing was on the wall when Broadway went dark on 13 March, but it’s all happened so quickly hasn’t it. We haven’t even seen this week out [mid-March]. So many people are working in the industry, and that’s before you even take the amateur sector into account too. The impact of this is huge. And I know everybody is figuratively in the same boat, but I do think ours is a slightly different boat in this industry. It has a direct impact on finances and mental health (which can be fragile at the best of times). Without a doubt, first and foremost, this is a health crisis but it’s also a financial one. The only slightly rosy situation, for me personally, is that we have been honoured with two-weeks’ paid notice.
What I must say, in hindsight, is that I’m very grateful – as a company – we’re not stranded on the other side of the world. We are able to be close to loved ones… but, of course, that’s just my story. This is also happening to millions of others in all walks of life. I’m just trying to reach out and make people aware of the problems faced by the theatre community. In the industry, professional actors are freelance and don’t get statutory sick pay. In my thirty-year career I’ve had no more than ten performances off – you just don’t go ‘sick’. The old adage of ‘the show must go on’ is very real, because the bills still have to be paid.
What angered me initially by Boris Johnson’s response was that he really threw us under the bus, as an industry. It was left for the producers to take the situation into their own hands, and, if producers cancel a show then nobody’s covered. Just a re-wording of his sentence could have helped us out a little bit at least.
Unlike over here, theatres in Canada were closed by law rather than a public request and, as a result, I think the legal ramifications are currently being wrangled to and fro across the pond as we speak.
I really didn’t want to make this a political rant, but I think that many people – even your agent – think that in periods of down-time we exist in this sort of idle rich idyll, ha, ha! We don’t! We’re real people with mortgages to pay like everybody else.
Anyway, I went to bed last night thinking about what we can do. We all have captive audiences, literally. But, at the moment none of us have a platform, even for smaller productions like our cabarets or one-woman shows. For me, the smaller venues such as Live at Zédel aren’t available because they’re all rightly closed.
People like me have lovely sets which we’ve put together and might perform to around eighty people. There must be a gap in the market, somewhere, to get together some kind of venue and a videographer and perhaps stream a performance for the price of… well I don’t know. That’s the other thing; as an actor you’re always terrified to ask for money in case it loses you a job. Ha, ha! I can entertain people from my living-room if I need to. I just need to know how. It might be a case of ‘watch this space!’ With today’s technology I’m sure there must be quite a few people who are already thinking along the same lines of how this kind of idea might be feasible. We’ve all got these iPhone 11 Pros, on which you can even make a movie!
I’ve even started to do some bite-size chunks – without getting preachy – on social media myself. People might not miss not going to a show at the moment, but they will if venues go bust and are forced to shut down permanently.
We do of course need to put all of these arguments into perspective. There is a bloody nasty virus out there and, at the end of the day, we’re just show people – only with bills to pay.