Theatres continue to play a vital community role during coronavirus

Although theatre buildings are closed and there are no public performances for the foreseeable future, theatres continue to play a pivotal role in their communities in these difficult times.

We know how much communities are missing these valued spaces, so it's truly inspiring to see the variety of ways theatres are engaging with and supporting their local communities.

We’ve updated this article for more of the things theatres are doing - new additions in bold.

The Cheltenham Everyman Theatre’s Education and Community team have continued to deliver educational and artistic opportunities to students in Gloucestershire even though it's shut to audiences. The team at the theatre was able to deliver a truncated version of its Musical Theatre Summer School programme which culminated in a performance by 30 students in the theatre’s main auditorium.

The auditorium of the Oxford Playhouse has temporarily become a lecture space for Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Since lockdown the theatre has started working with new partners like Help the Aged and Oxfordshire Association for the Blind on special programmes designed to engage some of the most isolated and vulnerable people in its community.

A new market is to be held in the Norwich Theatre Royal car park to help support traders which have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

English National Opera is to use lullabies to help people recovering from Covid-19, with the company employing techniques used by opera singers to aid their rehabilitation.

Swansea Grand Theatre, Port Talbot’s Princess Royal Theatre and Theatr Clwyd have all become blood donation centres to support Welsh Blood through this period of high demand and lower supplies.

Staff at Camberley Theatre have been involved in the welfare work with the council, calling residents who are vulnerable or at home and working as runners, delivering meals on wheels or medicine.

Milford Haven’s Torch Theatre and Ceredigion’s Theatr Felinfach have both made, printed and distributed hundreds of protective face visors for key support workers and carers.

Both Aberdare’s RCT Theatres and Flintshire’s Theatr Clwyd have used artistic resources to deliver programmes to marginalised groups including work with refugees and at-risk young people.

Wolverhampton Grand has opened up its auditorium to over 40 NHS staff from the local hospital, who are using the building to conduct training whilst maintaining social distancing.

Dunoon Burgh Hall initially launched a Community Kitchen project, working in conjunction with the local Social Work Department, Hubgrub, and Dunoon Food Bank, to identify vulnerable members of the community who would benefit. The kitchen has since extended the scope of the service to include those who are self-isolating or shielding.

Queens Hall Narberth hosts the local Blood Service for 4 days each month.  

The National Theatre has kindly lent its car park to the specialist and acute care teams at Guy’s, St Thomas’, and Evelina London.

Battersea Arts Centre has been supporting the sector since lockdown started, providing Gigaid support to get vital resources out to people. It helped enable Improbable set-up digital open spaces for discussions about the future of the sector at #Timetorespair. Its building is to become a hub that brings local organisations together to deliver creative packs to local children.

The Yard in Hackney Wick has been very active in its community during the lockdown. Not only has it convened an E20 response group, bringing together housing providers, voluntary organisations and local authorities to identify local need and respond to, support and connect residents, the team has also helped to organise the first online Hackney Wick Town Hall for local residents to empower its local community to rebuild. Other activities include coordinating volunteers to deliver food and shopping locally and establishing a group of phone buddies making calls to isolated or lonely local residents.

The Harlequin Redhill has taken on a new function during the coronavirus emergency – a base for Reigate & Banstead Borough Council to support residents in need.

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre and Questors London volunteers join many across the country helping make scrubs for the NHS.

Berkshire’s Watermill Theatre has also supported its community in a number of ways, from making scrubs for the NHS to hosting a local paramedic at its on-site actors’ cottage and doing deliveries for people in the local community who can’t go shopping.

Derby Theatre’s community-based approach has included holding advice surgeries and online workshops for emerging artists on the support available, how to manage a crisis and wellbeing. The Youth Theatre now meets online, and Its staff have also been delivering food parcels to young people in care.

Jermyn Street Theatre offers A Cup of JSTea, free phone calls, and online social events to isolated audience members, it hosts free online social and career development events for theatre freelancers. 

Chester’s Storyhouse is also reaching out to some of the most vulnerable, providing access to a phone line for a ‘chatter and natter’, to tackle social isolation. 

Sutton’s Cryer Arts, a former Theatre at Risk, has opened up Spotlight To Go for takeaways in a room at the room of the theatre – you can select a pickup time, and order and pay ahead.

Many theatres’ costume departments are turning their skills to making scrubs for the NHS including ENO, Barn Theatre in Cirencester, and the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Birmingham Rep is also making machine washable bags so scrubs can be washed safely and is collecting material for this purpose from its stage door.

Chichester Festival Theatre has given the rooms usually used by visiting performers to hospital staff.

Leith Theatre, which is on our Theatres at Risk list, is open every day 12-5 for foodbank donations.

Settle Victoria Hall, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, is the world’s oldest music hall. When it closed for performances in March, it became a community response hub, coordinating the delivery of prescriptions and shopping, pet care, liaison with local services and businesses, and providing a calm, friendly, trusted voice on the other end of the phone for isolated and vulnerable people. A meeting room has been converted into a ‘visor workshop’, assembling more than 2,200 masks that have been sent out to care homes, ambulance stations, hospitals, medical centres and professionals, and others throughout the area.

While the theatre building is closed, Park Theatre in London’s Finsbury Park continues to connect with those in its community living with dementia, with its Reminiscence group now being virtual.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre has set up Telephone Club, where anyone can sign up to be called by members of the theatre company a couple of times a week, to chat about theatre, have a general chat and prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The Albany in Deptford has continued to support all sections of its community including activity boxes and a radio show for older residents, courses, podcasts, and online commissions for young artists at the start of their careers, and making its buildings available for essential services.

Alexandra Palace, which was removed from our Theatres at Risk list last year, has been turned into a food distribution hub.

Venue Cymru in Llandudno will become the first temporary hospital in north Wales to help patients with symptoms of coronavirus.

Royal Opera House has donated personal protective equipment from its set and scenery workshops to the London Ambulance Service including masks, gloves, clothing, wipes, and sponges.

Slung Low, which runs the Holbeck and the Cultural Community College in Leeds, is acting as a Lead Organisation co-ordinating volunteers to deliver food parcels, prescriptions, and laundry in its area.

Scottish Opera is using its set transporter trucks to deliver food to local supermarkets, to help keep them well stocked.

Scotland’s largest arts centre, Eden Court in Inverness has entered into a partnership with the Highland Council to redeploy its staff into community support roles, such as helping to deliver education outcomes for young people and planning activities to tackle loneliness.

Theatr Clwyd in Mold has been busy with activities including creating creative home packs for our vulnerable company members, taking its food stock to homeless shelters, working with Social Services to identify families in need, and filming digital content for educational and creative use.

Several theatres including Curve in Leicester, Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle and the Lyceum and Traverse in Edinburgh have donated food to vulnerable families, food banks, and shelters.

Theatres also continue to keep their audiences engaged and entertained from a distance.

Read about the many theatres that have now become vaccination centres.

Image: Matt Seymour on Unsplash