OWith infections on the rise in the UK, theaters are facing challenges posed by Covid cases among cast and production crew, leading to postponed opening nights, canceled performances and substantial costs.
Northern Broadsides were forced to cancel performances of As You Like It at the Halifax Viaduct on Sunday and three other days this week due to Covid cases, with ticket buyers being offered reassigned tickets or a refund. On Monday, Curve in Leicester announced that due to a number of cases among the company of its new production of Billy Elliot: The Musical, performances would now start on July 13 instead of July 7. A statement from Curve Managing Director Chris Stafford and Artistic Director Nikolai Foster said valuable prep time had been lost and the delay “allows us to make up time in the rehearsal room and ensure a first-class production for our audience”. The race was extended for another week and the company would now be “in good shape”.
Last week, a double touring dance program at Sadler’s Wells in London came two years later than planned due to the pandemic. One of the rooms, Common Ground[s] by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, was canceled at the 11th hour due to a case of Covid in her company. The tour, which includes a presentation of Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring with dancers from 14 African countries, has been a mammoth undertaking, with more than 2,700 Covid tests administered so far.
For months, theaters were allowed to open for audiences at full capacity with restrictions such as social distancing and mask-wearing now lifted by the government. But many theaters are still feeling the financial impact of the past two years, including the effect of the cancellation of pantomimes during the traditionally lucrative holiday season. Many now have emergency loans to repay and rising energy prices to contend with. The cost of living crisis is also having an impact on audiences. When a show is cancelled, buyers can choose to donate the ticket price instead of requesting a refund, but several theaters have reported a drop in donations since the pandemic began.
In Liverpool, the Royal Court Theater has lost no performances due to Covid this year. However, the threat last winter of a New Year’s Eve lockdown led to the theater postponing its opening from January to spring. This means the theater is only producing six shows this year instead of the usual seven or eight. The empty January/February slot could have generated around £170,000 at the box office, the theater said.
The severe challenges of managing Covid in a touring show were felt by Finn den Hertog and his partner Vicki Manderson who are co-directors of The Hope River Girls, which toured Scotland in April and May. Den Hertog tested positive for Covid on the first day of their 10-day rehearsal period, so he was confined to participating in Zoom while Manderson and their son isolated themselves from him for fear it would spread to the rest of the company. Two of their four performers tested positive before heading to technical rehearsals.
Three sold-out preview performances of The Hope River Girls at Glasgow Tramway have been cancelled. “It was hugely disappointing but really our only choice,” Den Hertog said. “We had the artists to consider because even though they might test negative after 10 days, anyone who has had Covid will tell you that you are definitely not back to full health [immediately]. If the past two and a half years have taught us anything, it’s that people’s health and well-being must come first, so sending actors to perform a show they hadn’t fully rehearsed would have been a incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing thing to interrogate. We all know the old adage that the show must go on, but not at the expense of people’s physical or mental health. »
One of this year’s most anticipated productions, Alecky Blythe’s new verbatim drama Our Generation, has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The play, about teenage life in Britain, was a co-production of the National Theater in London and the Chichester Festival Theatre. A week of his rehearsals had to take place online when the National closed last Christmas due to the Omicron variant. Several actors then had to miss parts of the rehearsal period due to isolation rules and some previews were canceled due to Covid cases among the actors.
At one of the Our Generation previews, due to the number of no-shows, Blythe herself went on for one of the cast. Other actors played additional roles during some performances, and the director, Daniel Evans, also stepped in to play a character. Three emergency ‘swing’ actors were added to the company but, even with them, five performances were lost in Chichester as the combination of sick people could not be covered. Two of Chichester’s three managers have also caught the virus.
Eleven performances were canceled at the National, a potential return of around £100,000. Chichester lost around £40,000 following their five canceled performances.