The show must go on: theatre groups prepare for reopening

SANJANA IDNANI reports on how local theatrical venues and amdram groups have been dealing with the covid lockdown as they prepare to put on their summer shows

Library performance: next week’s concert has been rehearsed under covid rules

Theatre companies and performers across the borough have faced their fair share of uncertainty and difficulty over the past 15 months of the covid-19 pandemic, and ensuring that the show can go on this summer has come with its own set of exceptional circumstances.

Theatre Workshop Coulsdon and Daniel Stockton Productions are both working to put on live shows in the next few weeks.

For the first time since its Christmas 2019 production, TWC, one of the borough’s leading amdram groups, is returning to the stage for the Agatha Christie whodunnit And Then There Were None from July 31. Daniel Stockton Productions is bringing six professional performers together to Upper Norwood Library to perform musical classics in a production called West End at the Library next Sunday, July 25.

While the shows have been planned for after July 19, the date when almost all legal covid-19 restrictions will be lifted, the groups have had to rehearse under stricter social distancing rules, and also work out how to put their audience, performers and crew at ease once the curtains go up.

The rehearsal process for TWC has been quite unconventional.

The play was supposed to be run in April 2020, but was pulled in response to the severe health emergency.

Curtain up: The Coulsdon Community Centre, where TWC’s first full-cast rehearsals can begin from tomorrow

At that time, TWC didn’t know how long the lockdown would last and so they started Zoom rehearsals to keep the cast on their toes. As the pandemic stretched on, the uncertainty around whether the performance would ever be able to go ahead saw rehearsals eventually put on pause.

When they were able to return to in-person rehearsals, the six-person rule saw them restricted to small groups. They won’t be able to rehearse as a full cast until after tomorrow’s lifting of covid precautions.

On show-day, audience members can expect some changes too: seats will be spaced out, there will be sanitising stations around the venue and the box office will be closed to manage audience numbers and prevent overcrowding. TWC will use only 60 per cent of the capacity available at the hall in the Coulsdon Community Centre.

“We will work with audience feedback, but we are hoping the experience can be more relaxed for audience members, especially as we have managed the numbers and risks as much as possible,” said TWC’s Paul Ford.

As a trustee of the community centre, Ford explained that the venue had carried considerable losses since the start of the pandemic. Most of the additional costs required to make the venue and group activities covid-safe were borne by the community centre’s trust, which also refunded the fees paid in advance by groups to use the space when it was forced to close. The centre has had little income since.

After more than a year’s delay, TWC takes to the stage again at the end of this month

While some of this was offset by financial support for voluntary, community and social enterprises – VCSEs in the government jargon – a grant that Coulsdon Community Centre was expecting from Croydon Council never materialised.

Daniel Stockton Productions had a little bit more luck with financial support as they gained a grant, from Arts Council England, but they have faced challenges of their own.

West End at The Library had been a regular gig at Upper Norwood Library, but covid has affected ticket sales. Daniel Stockton, the producer, told Inside Croydon: “We have done eight or nine concerts in Crystal Palace, and they’ve always sold out.  However, this time, you can tell that people are reluctant to book.”

To allay any fears, Stockton and the team are keeping a range of extra measures in place. Attendees will be temperature checked, contact details will be held for contact tracing purposes, people will be invited to wear a mask and all the library spaces will be opened up to ensure social distancing can be followed.

Spare PPE and hand sanitiser will be available on show-night and ushers will direct crowds during the interval so that social distancing can be maintained.

Upper Norwood Library: the performance space will be used at 50% capacity

Like TWC, Daniel Stockton Productions are not using the usual capacity of their venue, with Upper Norwood Library’s performance space operating at 50 per cent of maximum.

Stockton highlighted how the return to the rehearsal room was a magical moment for the cast: “Our musical director, Simona Budd, burst into tears because it was so nice to be back in a room with such wonderful talent and to hear people sing.

“It has been a challenge and I have been told to postpone, but I think there comes a point where we just have to try.

“It means the world to me that even for the day I can pay these wonderful people to come and perform for everyone.”

For TWC, putting on this production is similarly emotional.

“We’ve got two members of the cast in today’s cast who were in the first show we did in 1970,” Ford said.

“This show represents a return to normality, a belated celebration of our 50th anniversary that we were unable to celebrate last year, it is a very big deal. And because it has been such a big deal to put this show on, once it is done, we can finally move on and do other new things.”

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