How to support theatre during Covid: all the ways you can get your arts fix online and in person
Check out some ways to support theatre during the pandemic online and in-person as socially distanced theatre begins to open up in London.
The need to support theatre is more pressing that ever. Whilst the global pandemic has hit many industries hard, theatre has been undeniably hit harder than most. From huge productions on the West End to university productions at the Bloomsbury Theatre, due to the government guidelines on social distancing and ban on large groups of people gatherings, theatres have been shut down for months. But does that mean that theatre is dying?
With the shift to moving in-person events online, from business meetings to friendly catch up, the world has had to adapt to an online platform. Part of the appeal of theatre as opposed to TV and films is the live and in-person aspect of going out to watch someone perform onstage.
However, since this hasn’t been possible during the pandemic, the theatre industry has had to adapt to reaching people from their own homes rather than in theatres.
One of the great initiatives to come out of the pandemic is Thespie, a new London-based startup with the aims of helping struggling theatres and actors and advocating for a live-stream approach to theatre so that people can tune in from the comfort and safety of their homes. Their primary aim is ‘creating new ways to help them (theatres and actors) reach broader audiences and build visibility for their shows’ and to support the theatre industry in this tough time by advocating for new shows and online events. Inspiring and fostering creativity and story-telling at a time that seems a bit bleak to most people.
Thespie has a digital database where you can find information about shows you are able to stream online and where you can find them and watch legally. This means you are directly supporting the artists behind these shows, rather than illegal bootlegs which can harm the industry. There is a huge selection of plays and musicals on offer, from professionally filmed stage productions to movie musicals to chats with the actors and production crews of shows. Some are free and some are included with a paid subscription to services such as Amazon Prime or Disney Plus. There is a huge selection of theatre on offer, and all helpfully collected in one place for you to peruse.
Some personal recommendations are anything by Team Starkid, a viral theatre company who put their shows on Youtube for free, including the hit Harry Potter parody A Very Potter Musical, as well as the fantastically filmed version of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton on Disney Plus. There’s also a whole host of non-musical shows, including Shakespeare productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company and more. Truly a selection for every theatre lover!
Another thing that Thespie is doing to help support theatre is help them return to live performances. Under the new English tier system, venues in Tier 1 are allowed 50% capacity or 4000 people (outdoors) or 1000 people (indoors) whichever is the lesser, and venues in Tier 2 are limited to whichever is lower: 50% capacity, or either 2,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors. Events in tier 3 are still not permitted. This means that since London is in tier 2, performances are able to begin again as long as there is sufficient social distancing and COVID-safe measures in place.
Some big musical shows are reopening on the West End, including Six and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie which are both opening in December, and Wicked and Come From Away are set to open their doors in January 2021. A few West End plays are also opening in December including The Play that Goes Wrong and A Christmas Carol. Whilst there is only a small selection at the moment, hopefully as the vaccine starts to be rolled out, more theatres will be able to open safely and viably, as one of the huge concerns is that due to social distancing theatres will likely lose money if they have to put on high-budget shows to a limited audience.
The Park Theatre will also be reopening in the New Year (7th Jan-30th Jan) for socially distanced shows in both auditoria: a revival of comedy thriller CORPSE! in Park90 from Thursday 7 – Saturday 30 January; COFFEE, CROISSANT AND A CONCERT, a Sunday series of chamber music concerts throughout January in Park200, followed by the premiere of spine chilling ghost story WHEN DARKNESS FALLS, in Park200 from 24 February – 13 March 2021.
Artistic Director Jez Bond said, “We’re so excited to be reopening our doors with a socially distanced programme of work in January. We can’t wait to welcome back audiences for some much needed laughs in Corpse!, a tranquil series of Sunday concerts and the gripping new thriller When Darkness Falls. We’re also starting the New Year by making a positive change in the world of theatre by offering a free programme of masterclasses to creatives from underrepresented groups. Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far – we look forward to welcoming you all back to the venue with enhanced Covid secure measures to ensure everyone visiting has an enjoyable and safe experience.”
The arts have been brutally hit by lockdown restrictions. With no viable way of opening until now, theatres have been losing money and actors have been out of jobs. Despite the government’s now infamous ‘Fatima’ advert, which indicated that the government wanted to discourage artists during the pandemic, there has been a higher need for art than ever. People stuck at home turn to TV, movies, books and theatre to ease their boredom. The success of the National Theatre at Home streams (in which the National Theatre streamed 16 professionally filmed plays for a limited time for free on YouTube) at the height of the first lockdown proved that there is a demand for online theatre in the current climate.
Perhaps the success of theatre streams and online theatre will push the theatre industry into a new direction. Making theatre accessible to a wider audience, who may not be able to afford or have the means to attend the theatre, is never a bad thing. Especially for us students; despite living in London we are unlikely to be able to afford lots of expensive trips to the West End, but paying £6 for a Disney Plus subscription to watch Hamilton is much more viable. It means there is no need for broke students to seek out illegal bootlegs, and we can directly support actors and creatives in a difficult time for everyone.
The move to online platforms was not ideal, but it has certainly forced everyone to reevaluate how to interact with the world, and theatre is no exception. With incredibly innovative and creative theatre happening on Zoom even: Thespie have produced exclusive streams such as their show Unlimited: The Songs of Stephen Schwartz which was a live stream celebrating the famous composer of Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, Children of Eden, and The Prince of Egypt with exclusive performances all available from the comfort of your own home.
Closer to home, we spoke to one of the UCL productions that will still be going ahead this year, the UCL Greek Play. An event that draws in huge crowds every year from all over the country. Last year their production Frogs was a huge success and there is hopes that the pandemic won’t stop this year’s production of the Odyssey from achieving the same heights. We spoke to Director, Lewis Bentley who told us that students can help support theatre by “‘Following us on Social Media (both Facebook and Insta) and watching our production when it comes out during the 8th and 12th Feb.”
2020 has been a trying time for us all, but it is also a time that we can appreciate the arts in whatever way possible. Online streams and socially distanced performances are likely to be the future of theatre as we know it for a while: so it’s up to us to embrace it and support theatre and celebrate the arts.