I’m not sure any of us are prepared for the reality of life after lockdown. It’s hard to imagine anything but the ‘normal’ we’ve lived with for so long. It now seems that the world we’ll be venturing back into will be very different for a considerably long time. We hope not of course, but one thing we’ve learned recently is to expect and be prepared for the unexpected.

As Producers SIR CAMERON MACKINTOSH and SONIA FRIEDMAN paint a very grim picture of life in our theatre’s post lockdown, we are now seeing pictures coming from a concert at the State Theatre of Hesse in Wiesbaden, which normally seats 1,000, but had fewer than 200 audience members this week, due to social distancing rules.

The New York Times ran the story with pictures from Gordon Welters, and as nice as it was to see doors open on theatres once again, you can’t help but think how soul-destrying it must be for both the performers and audience to be in such an environment.

It goes without saying that our theatres here simply couldn’t survive with audiences of this size. Can you imagine sitting in the Wales Millennium Centre watching Phantom of The Opera with only a handful of people watching? It’s not only about the atmosphere but, if we’re being brutally honest, they would never make any money. No money means no shows. No shows perhaps means more nights in with a new kind of enforced social distancing.

During intermission in Germany, wine, pretzels and other refreshments were served outdoors from a food cart near the colonnaded theatre entrance, instead of in a foyer, like normal. Luckily the weather on Monday was clear and warm.

Wolfgang Allin, an Austrian architect who has a home in Wiesbaden said……

“It’s not the atmosphere we’re used to. But you have to take it as it comes.”

The reality is, a venue like the WMC or St David’s hall, with their wide seats and spacious aisles could possibly handle any social distancing measures, for a short while. Most theatres however, are old (and beautiful) but really not built for any kind of distance measures. The seats are more cramped, we can almost be sat on someones lap in some of our venues. Then there are the foyers and bars. It would be nigh on impossible to socially distance more than a few people at a time.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a theatre when I haven’t had to brush past someone or say the obligatory ‘sorry’ as you go past them. Then there’s the logistics that would have to go in to arranging ticket holders in order. Lining up outside the theatre on possibly a cold, wet night.

Now, these are just the ramblings of a massive theatre fan who, like so many others is missing the enjoyment a show brings. One part of me is saying this has to happen at any cost, something is better than nothing. But with two of the biggest names in theatre production saying social distancing measures wouldn’t work, I tend to agree with them, especially after seeing the pictures from Germany.

Then there’s the performers. How did they feel about this unique performance? Although Mr. Groissböck understood the social-distancing rationale for the empty seats, it still felt strange, he said in an interview following his performance of works by Schubert and Mahler.

“At the beginning it felt almost like an art installation, an experiment. But from song to song, it very quickly became something very human.”

Mr. Groissböck and the pianist Alexandra Goloubitskaia performed songs by Schubert and Mahler.
Gordon Welters for The New York Times

So just how long will it be before we get back to some sort of normality? I guess as long as it takes, but you can’t help but think for our theatres, cinemas and other venues, this may well be longer than we’d like.


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