Sheffield Theatres CEO Dan Bates: “We want to be back and on our stages as soon as possible”
After a whirlwind few years that brought a slew of award-winning productions to their Crucible, Lyceum and Studio venues, the stages at Sheffield Theatres have fallen silent for the longest period in their history, much to the dismay of culture lovers throughout the region.
After closing the curtains mid-March and having no option but to furlough the majority of their workforce, a smaller team has remained active in safeguarding the future of the largest theatre complex outside of London and more recently exploring ways in which they can begin entertaining audiences again.
“We want to be back and on our stages as soon as possible,” Sheffield Theatres CEO Dan Bates assured us when we spoke last month. “But the main thing is listening to government advice and making audiences feel safe and comfortable about coming back to us.”
The most recent advice from Number 10 – an announcement that theatres and concert halls could re-open on July 4th but couldn’t host live performances – had caused some controversy in the industry, especially with many organisations receiving little funding during the lockdown and some having to resort to extreme measures such as redundancies to stay afloat.
Explaining that 89% of Sheffield Theatres’ income comes from their audiences, Dan uses the analogy of “trying to play cricket without a ball” to describe indoor theatre without live performances, and even if that guidance soon changes, there’s the issue of current social distancing measures reducing the capacity of The Crucible from 1,000 to 115 at two metres or circa 250 at one metre.
“That naturally makes things tricky, but then again, not everyone comes to theatre in single groups, so there are lots of adaptations which we are looking at. We have been working hand-in-hand with the DCMS and the Arts Council England to explore options for some more support. There are emergency funds being made available and we’re waiting on the outcome of that.”
So, if the people can’t come inside the theatres for live performances, what could be the answer? Bringing the theatres outside, of course. Planning is already underway by the team on pop-up Shakespeare performances to take place in open-air spaces, which would be free for local audiences to attend.
“We thought that if people can’t come to us, we should come to the people. I think we’ll be looking at these outdoor performances to launch in late-August/early-September perhaps, but again this would be dependent on government advice at the time.”
Despite challenges to overcome and adaptations to be made, Dan assures us that Sheffield Theatres will be back, announcing that in the meantime they will soon be launching “Free Cheers for Sheffield” – an online programme to keep audiences entertained and rewarded for their loyalty.
“There’s not a week that goes by where we don’t hear from someone disappointed that they were meant to be seeing something this week. Some people have been putting their tickets onto a box office credit to use in the future, so there’s such a great loyalty to Sheffield Theatres, and we really appreciate it. The important message here is that we will be back, and over the next few weeks we’ll be speaking with our audiences and making our plans as clear as we can.”
Find the latest updates and Free Cheers for Sheffield programme online at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk