To state the obvious, these are extremely testing times for the performing arts and live entertainment generally. Although galleries are now being permitted to open, there is no such prospect currently for live performances especially those requiring indoor spaces. In my 40 years in the management of music and theatrical companies, I had what I thought were a reasonable number of calamities to deal with.
There was Paul Keating’s recession, the one ‘we had to have’; the burning down of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket in the middle of the 1971 opera season; two years earlier, a fire swept through more than a dozen timber wool stores at St Peters, including one containing all our opera scenery; there was Bob Hawke’s pilots’ strike of 1989. These were bad enough at the time, but they fade into insignificance compared with the present lockdown which, for theatres and concert halls, is really a lockout. A photo of a German theatre observing ‘social distancing’, with a tiny audience, demonstrates how impossible, even absurd, it would be.
I feel greatly for my successors in those management roles. Nine or ten months of performances have been cancelled; the lockout has been a calamity for organisations so dependent on box office revenue. When it is eventually brought to an end, there should be a period of reappraisal, of reflection on what the public wants from the arts, and the best way forward in rebuilding.
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