The theatre industry is among those hardest hit by the pandemic but there are several ways we can support it from our sofa.

Whichever way you look at it, the coronavirus has wreaked unimaginable havoc. Bruised but not broken, many businesses are happily opening up again – albeit with twiddles and tweaks in place. One industry that cannot rise from the ashes so fast, however, is the performing arts industry.

As the stage and film director, Sam Mendes, wrote this month in FT Weekend: ‘The continuance of social distancing makes the prospect of [theatres] reopening simply impossible. Many other businesses will be able to adapt – shops, offices, public spaces, some restaurants.

‘Even a cinema with reduced capacity can have five showings a day of a single movie, making it possible to have a relatively successful socially distanced commercial run. But theatre and live performance – with one performance a day and sellable seats reduced by an average of 80 per cent – simply cannot stay afloat.’

So something has got to give, or we risk losing a vital chunk of our national identity and our economy. In 2018, 34million people in the UK went to the theatre. Our theatre venues generated ticket revenue of £1.28billion. Last year, London theatre alone brought in £133million in VAT.

Mendes has come up with a rescue plan and urged the government (and the streaming services that have made a fortune during the pandemic) to work with the theatre industry on it. Which is brilliant. But, with minimal effort, we normal people can support the performing arts from our homes. There are myriad ways, you just have to know about them.

To help survive its period of closure, The Old Vic has created an online series of socially distanced, global, live-streamed performances called Old Vic: In Camera. The first show in the series is the hugely popular Lungs, starring Matt Smith and Claire Foy. Each performance is available to up to 1,000 people per night, replicating the theatre’s normal capacity. Tickets are priced as they are in the auditorium, from £10–£65, but The Old Vic is asking audiences to give what they can to help support the theatre in return for access to this totally unique experience.

Meanwhile, at The National, the goodwill of its viewers is palpable. Through the National Theatre Home scheme, you can watch one of their plays (June offerings include their critically acclaimed The Madness of George III, Small Island and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) on YouTube for free. In return, the theatre asks viewers to donate what they can.

Don’t be defeatist and think theatre streaming isn’t for you. It takes a subtle change to your mindset – but it is truly a pleasure in the end. Maltesers and G&Ts optional…

From The Royal Opera House, three special live-streamed performances of ballet and opera are coming our way this month, as part of its #ourhousetoyourhouse series. The first is free. The subsequent ones will cost £4.99 (less than the return Tube ticket you’d have bought to get to the theatre if its doors were open).

The Bridge’s innovative founder Nicholas Hytner has teamed up during lockdown with the BBC to recreate Alan Bennett’s famous Talking Heads. These brilliant monologues, which were first aired in 1988, have been remade on existing sets with new (socially distanced) actors and are now available to watch on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. There is no way to pay for this, as such, but viewing figures will carry their own value – so be sure to tune in.

And then there is the question of simple donations. Big theatres have prominent ‘donate’ buttons on their sophisticated websites. The Old Vic made a strong call-to-arms at the start of lockdown. Its statement reads: ‘Theatre is on an ever-diminishing list of group experiences that provides a sense of community and connectedness.

‘We are certain that in the weeks and months ahead when we all face isolation, the need to reconnect and share with one another will become increasingly important. Our theatre would not be here without our supporters, and we will fight hard to keep it for everyone, as we will need it more than ever when we come out the other side of this.

‘If you would like to make a donation to support your local London theatre to survive in these incredibly challenging times and sustain as a beacon of the British arts with a strong social mission at its heart, just as it has always been for the last two centuries, we would be extraordinarily grateful.’

Undoubtedly, the best way to support the smaller theatres that you love is through donations. Most of them have made it easy to donate. Check out their individual websites for details. But actually do it, don’t just say you will.

For, as Mendes wrote: ‘If [our theatres] die, an ecosystem this intricate and evolved cannot be rebuilt from scratch. It is the product of decades of capital projects, loyal audiences and of communities large and small. If it stops breathing, it cannot be resuscitated.’

By Becky Ladenburg
June 2020

If you liked reading this, then you might like:

22 Museums And Galleries You Can Tour Online
Online Support For New Mums During Lockdown
Take A Virtual Tour Of The Great Exhibition

Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.