Royal & Derngate boss calls on government to give theatres a date on when they can reopen

'It just feels like we're the sector that's the last to receive anything concrete'

By Jack Duggan
Tuesday, 30th June 2020, 6:10 am
Updated Tuesday, 30th June 2020, 5:59 pm

The boss at Royal & Derngate has called on the government to give some clarity to when theatres can reopen and what help will be available to keep them going.

Theatres will be allowed to show recorded performances from July 4 but little detail has been published on when live productions can return and how venues will operate.

Jo Gordon, chief executive at Northamptonshire Arts Management Trust, which runs the Northampton theatres, Northampton Filmhouse and The Core at Corby Cube, said the lack of information makes it difficult to plan for the future.

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Royal & Derngate chief executive Jo Gordon

"It just feels like we're the sector that's, not being overlooked as the government is working on it, but the last to receive anything concrete," she told the Chronicle & Echo.

"We all know we need to be super-mindful of the science and look at the whole picture but in other industries, they have 'not before' dates and this is what we need so we can start looking at how it's all going to work."

The Royal and Derngate theatres, like all other venues across the country, have been closed since March 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the lockdown, the Northampton theatres launched an emergency fundraising appeal while nearly all staff have been furloughed.

Jo is thankful to everyone who has donated and shared their memories of the Royal & Derngate which has helped to put a smile on their faces.

She also thanked those who had booked tickets to shows that have been postponed and agreed to move with them or taken a gift voucher instead of a refund.

"We've got some really big, exciting shows like We Will Rock You that we've had to move to 2021 and things like that are brilliant to look forward to," she said.

When theatres are allowed to reopen, Jo and her team have worked out that the Derngate would only be able to have 200 people in the audience if a two-metre social distancing rule is implemented out of a possible 1,100.

The lack of capacity and confidence in the public in coming to the theatre may make some showings financially unviable so Jo wants to boost both of those issues before considering non-live performances.

"As a charity, we have to be careful about what we do and how we use our money so everything needs to be concrete in terms of risk to people's health," she said.

"And it's expensive to get the venue covid-ready for non-live performances so we've got to make sure it's the right thing to do."

Jo is also responsible for Northampton's only independent cinema, the Filmhouse, which is yet to announce when it will be reopening despite being allowed to by the government from July 4.

She said only having two boutique screens makes it hard to justify opening as the takings would not cover the costs so it may be a bit longer before it reopens.

"From the Filmhouse perspective, a lot of independent cinemas, because they're not a Cineworld or an Odeon with lots of screens to space out showings but have an 80-seater auditorium which can do two or three screenings a day, it's really hard to be profitable so we've got to be careful with that," she said.

"When restrictions relax and we're confident audiences are confident in coming back, which might take a while, then we'll see but we've got to be careful we don't rush into it."

Another element of Royal & Derngate that Jo is desperate to see return is all of the community work the theatres do - with 20,000 people participating every year.

Youth groups and workshops are itching to see each other again and Jo believes they can help people to heal after such a traumatic period.

"Obviously I'm biased but we feel arts and culture has a huge part to play in getting through this time," she said.

"I think schools are part of that to help people express themselves so if we can position ourselves to do so that would be absolutely brilliant."

Ultimately Jo, and theatre bosses across the UK, want some clear guidance from the government so they can get back to doing what they love.

"We're working really hard behind the scenes looking to best and worse case scenarios and dipping our toes where we can," she said.

"But the guidance is not concrete enough to move on with our reopening plans so we're having to balance our finances carefully to protect ourselves."