Theatres keeping their audiences entertained from a distance

Although there are no full public performances in theatre buildings for the foreseeable future, theatres continue to creatively engage and entertain their audiences in these difficult times.

We all value our theatres as places where communities can come together and the creative imagination can run riot. Here are just a number of creative ways theatres are keeping audiences engaged and entertained through the coronavirus pandemic.

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

Christmas panto at Glasgow's Pavilion Theatre will be broadcast online to make up for the cancellation of its usual indoor run. 

The Finborough Theatre has teamed up with Scenesaver, a free-to-use site streaming international fringe theatre to the world. Starting with the one-day streaming of Scrounger on 31 August, the Finborough Theatre will be streaming their #FinboroughForFree videos on the Finborough Theatre YouTube channel.

Sheffield Theatres has launched FREE CHEERS FOR SHEFFIELD, an online programme that will celebrate the theatres’ greatest moments, continue its dementia-friendly programme and support children and young people with creative activities and educational resources.

The Barbican has increased its digital content offer, with its Read, Watch, Listen section, but it has announced that concerts that will be streamed live from the Barbican Hall from October to December on a pay-per-view basis.

Oldham Coliseum, in partnership with Women’s Chai Project, Housing 21, Jigsaw Homes, and Pakistani Community Centre is running a community project to create a patchwork quilt representing ‘Togetherness’. Patches created individually will be joined together into a patchwork quilt by the Coliseum’s professional Wardrobe team and will be shared at the theatre when it reopens.

Children and young people are being given the chance to see their work staged at the new Shakespeare North Playhouse. The theatre – currently being built at Prescot – has teamed up with BBC’s The One Show to launch As You Write It, Your Play on Stage.

Through Sherman Theatre’s Creative Engagement programme, students at The College Merthyr Tydfil have connected with a local care home to create Tydfil Tales: an audio drama paying tribute to the lives and experiences of the care home residents. Tydfil Tales can be listened to for free from 1 July.

Having had its 2020 Summer Season closed, Grange Park Opera has been able to create a Found Season which features new work from 45+ artists filmed from its stage in Surrey. The performances are free to view online – released over six weeks from 4 June.

Finborough Theatre has three critically-acclaimed productions available to stream online for free, with more on the way, as part of #FinboroughForFree. Its online production archive is also online for anyone wanting to look at images, reviews, and more from its 40-year history. 

Farnham Maltings has invested almost £40,000 in South East theatre makers to create new work during the COVID-19 pandemic. 'Making Theatre in Extraordinary Times' has commissioned theatre for families in their homes, young people receiving cancer treatment, queuing supermarket shoppers, and those who are just out for a walk in Folkestone. The theatre has also been hosting professional development workshops to support makers and craftspeople.

Darlington Hippodrome has stocked up on digital activities for its audiences, including a virtual tour of the theatre, as well as quizzes, puzzles, colouring sheets, and theatre heritage resources, exploring key themes and characters in the theatre’s history.

Battersea Arts Centre turned its cancelled season into a new offer with #BACgoingdigital, and is producing Culture In Quarantine projects with BBC Arts and The Space. The theatre's Beatbox Academy has been hosting battles on Instagram and making videos to teach the nation to beatbox.  

Hackney Wick's Yard Theatre continues to engage with its younger audiences online. Its 50 local young people aged 4-19 now make theatre with leading artists via Zoom. The after-school art club has moved online, and the team has also delivered free art packs with craft materials to young people in the area, so they can take part.

Sunderland Culture, including Arts Centre Washington, has joined forces with the city’s university and local council to deliver a programme of online culture to residents. Children’s activities, a student ‘take-over festival’, homeschooling, and a project for socially-isolated older people have been amongst the digital offerings.

The Oxford Playhouse team continues to entertain the local community with Playhouse at Home, to encourage creativity and keep audiences connected during the period of closure.

The Palace Theatre, Newark, has teamed up with the neighbouring National Civil War Centre’s learning team in a new project to mark its centenary through an online community quilting project to build up a picture of the front of the theatre, illustrate past performances from the public’s memories.

Royal Court has created an online installation called Caretaker by Hester Chillingworth that live streams the theatre’s uninhabited main stage.

Northampton’s Royal & Derngate has launched Royal & Derngate at home, a digital platform packed with creative content for audiences to watch, join in with and share from their homes.

Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre is partnering with the National Literacy Trust for a new project, Our Stories, an online story creation adventure for five to-12-year-olds to encourage creativity through story creation for young people along the North Yorkshire coast.

Sheffield Theatres is offering creative activities and performances online for its audiences and recently launched a new online programme to support local artists, including a small commissions fund to enable artists to develop workshops and skills sharing sessions during the lockdown.

London’s Old Vic has launched In-Camera a new artistic initiative combining a run of socially distanced ticketed performances of LUNGS followed by a major series of rehearsed play-readings, all streamed live from the stage of the Old Vic, with the empty auditorium as a backdrop.

The Big House, in north London, has announced a production with socially distanced actors and is also inviting small numbers of audiences, limited to six at a time, to its ‘darkly comic’ response to the coronavirus crisis.

English National Opera has plans to stage a series of drive-in operas at Alexandra Palace, and Horrible Histories’ Barmy Britain is to tour a drive-in version of the show to car parks across the UK this summer.

Soho on Demand from Soho Theatre allows audiences to ‘rent’ shows online, including Fleabag, with other acts and shows being added.

Watford Palace Theatre has launched Palace @ Home which including Panto @ Home for families, poetry readings, and ‘ask a theatre professional’ sessions.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre is sharing useful and joyous content across its social media channels three times per day using #LightHopeJoy

National Theatre has launched National Theatre at Home, showing one production each week online. National Theatre Collection is also available free of charge for UK state-funded teachers and pupils at home.

Homemakers is a project by HOME in Manchester, commissioning artists in isolation for audiences to watch at home. These fully-funded commissions are an offer to groundbreaking artists to challenge the definition of “live theatre” – whether through live streaming, recorded performance, games, interactive stories, personal encounters, or something completely different. The first work is expected in early April and will be available on a ‘pay what you decide’ basis.

The Royal Opera House is offering online productions of ballet and opera, alongside musical masterclasses.

Greenwich Connects is a new initiative from Greenwich Theatre, which offers interactive theatre opportunities everyone to express and expand their creativity and engage with other members of the community through a series of weekly events, including Monologue Mondays and Short Play Submissions Sunday. Flashback Friday features performances from past Greenwich Theatre shows.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has launched RCSatHome, a new online community to connect its students, staff, and audiences during the time when the Conservatoire’s campus is closed. It is showcasing work, ideas, and conversations from students, staff and alumni.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with lots of theatres adding digital content to their websites and social media channels each day. The following sites are collating details of online performances:

Find out other ways theatres are playing a pivotal role in their communities in these difficult times.

Image: Kyle Head from Unsplash