The Post-Covid Struggle for Entertainment Venues
Firstly, we know it’s a bit premature to be referring to the present day as “post-covid”, but for entertainment venues such as theatres, arenas and concert halls, the aftereffects of the pandemic are very much being felt. During the height of covid, entertainment venues were forced to close their doors. This was a terrible blow to the arts sector which relies predominantly on ticket sales to make performances financially viable. If there’s one thing we have learned over the last year and a half, it’s that the arts are not extracurricular. They are imperative to life and human wellbeing.
The way the performance industry rallied and innovated during the pandemic was truly inspiring and people were very aware that theatres were struggling to pay their bills and taxes while not getting any income. People were willing to help prop up the entertainment business. The Shows Must go on initiative from Sir Lloyd Webber was a highlight of many a week during lockdown. Each weekend, a performance such as a play or musical which was previously filmed live in theatres, graced our television or computer screens, providing diversion and entertainment for theatre-lovers in very trying times. Through this initiative they managed to raise a considerable amount of money to support performers and venues which were struggling without income. They have made over one million pounds from donations and merchandise sales which will be put back into the creative sectors who need it most.
The thing is, now that theatres are technically open again and all official restrictions have been lifted, people seem to have suddenly stopped worrying about theatres and venues. Perhaps some of the public think that because they can once again sell tickets that they should be able to start where they left off before covid hit. House of Tours is primarily a touring logistics and live performance facilitating company, so we work with a lot of venues. We’d like to share with you some of the ways theatres and performance venues around the country are working to get to a good financial place post-covid. We’d also like to encourage those who yearned for theatres and concerts to reopen again but have not been to any performance since the pandemic, to support your local entertainment venues. Now that their doors are open again, the government won’t be helping them financially if they even were before and charities too, may have stopped their funding. They need help more than ever or we’ll see even more small, regional, and large performance venues shut their doors forever and all those beautiful buildings will be wasted or turned into blocks of flats or bingo halls. We don’t want that, so here are some ways theatres and performance venues are working to mitigate their losses and rise to the challenge.
Some theatres use every scrap of space at their disposal while others prefer not to split focus and resources. Diversifying use of space can be a helpful income boost though, especially as ticket sales are slow to go up. Creating a café which is open independently of the main theatre means that on days when there are no performances, or you would only be open in the evenings normally, you are still getting an income. Most theatres already have bar facilities and larger ones have more than one bar area. perhaps one of them could be repurposed to be open to the public as well as to be used for theatre patrons. Some venues might have backstage or cellar space which could be transformed into a meeting or conference room. Just be sure not to take bookings for those during showtimes or it could get rather noisy.
House of Tours was one of the first companies to get live-streamed, covid-friendly gigs produced to arena worthy quality. We were fortunate to have been able to adapt our technology and performance space to align with government guidance as it changed. Most venues won’t have been able to do that and now don’t see the point in figuring it out now they can let people in the doors again. The truth is though, that some people are still wary of crowded spaces, especially indoor spaces like gig venues and theatres where masks are not obligatory and social distancing is an option. Even before the pandemic our theatres were in trouble, so people definitely don’t need any excuses not to go to the theatre. Covid anxiety is understandable but if we don’t support our venues now, they won’t be there when you are ready to go to gigs again.
If, however, theatres were able to do hybrid performances, this could suit everyone. By hybrid, we mean that people can attend in person or virtually. There was a growing demand for large shows from the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, and ballet from the Royal Opera House to be streamed to local cinemas before covid-19, so we know that people like to and will pay to see shows that are not in person. Some theatres are sensibly giving their patrons an option to access the show on their devices at home for a limited time as if they are at the venue. This makes it more of an event than if they were to buy a DVD of the performance because they are watching it in real time along with the audience.
We’ve heard many times over the pandemic that “we’re all in this together”. Well, we can be, or we can go back to a time when entertainment venues would ruthlessly compete against each other. If there is another entertainment venue local to yours which is not a direct competitor, why not collaborate with them? For example, a concert venue might team up with a theatre in the same town to split marketing and advertising costs. That way, you’ll be a customer’s first point of contact for most creative events in the area. Sometimes bulk ordering things like alcohol and soft drinks can be cheaper in larger quantities too, so if both venues can order together, it can save you both money.
The sad fact is that some performance venues won’t survive this next year. We should support them where we can as customers and as businesses too. We certainly think the ‘shop local’ initiative should apply to theatres. With panto season and Christmas approaching, sales should go up as they’ve done in past years, but if there is any untapped vein of revenue your performance venue can produce, now is the time to investigate it.
The creative industries have struggled through many disasters in its time, and we can take heart from the knowledge that the human race will always need art to be happy. We are important, we are vital to society, and we are viable. Matthew Wexler of Dramatics magazine suggests that “if history tells us anything, it’s that resilience and creativity always prevail.” We creatives have plenty of those qualities