“We are preparing for an industry which doesn’t exist” The performing arts struggle to stay alive amid the pandemic

The performing arts industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with both professional and non-professional companies struggling to survive.

The Oxford Playhouse- From Wikimedia Commons

A cultural figure of performing arts in Oxford said the pandemic has had devastating effects on both people and companies and has been a difficult time for those involved in the industry.

Many companies have had to turn to digital services to keep people involved in the arts during a challenging year.

Chairman of Oxford Operatic Society (OXOPS), Ed Blagrove, said: “We have had a completely virtual year.”

OXOPS production- From Ed Blagrove

OXOPS usually stage full-scale productions twice a year in Oxford, but this year have turned to online events such as open mic nights, quizzes and their own version of ‘The Masked Singer’ in order to keep their members interested.

The closure of multiple companies and venues and social distancing requirements has caused performers, technicians and general workers in the musical theatre industry to be unemployed on a national level causing a significant financial impact on the industry.

Ed Blagrove commented: “Financially we are the lucky ones, I know of other companies close to us who have had tens of thousands of pounds written off.

“There are plenty of other companies out there with less happy stories to tell.”

How the pandemic has affected the performing arts

Established companies are not the only affected by the pandemic, the educational impact on musical theatre students has been considerable.

Abi Dent, a musical theatre student, said: “It’s been very hard. We’ve been trying to carry on as normal but we’re literally preparing for an industry which just doesn’t exist right now.”

Teaching physical lessons remotely has proven very difficult for musical theatre educators.

Laurel Platt, another musical theatre student, said: “It’s been very hard to connect with other performers and to get the correct emotions across when acting.”

Despite social distancing measures relaxing, the arts industry still lives in uncertainty because even when theatres can reopen, there is no guarantee of an audience.

Audience at a theatre- From flickr

Ed Blagrove explains: “The other thing that’s so completely unknown at the moment, is the audience’s confidence in going back into a theatre and sitting next to a complete stranger.

“Whether we come out of this stronger or weaker, will be on how many people buy tickets.”

Even though the year has been very testing for the performing arts, some benefits have emerged from the switch to digital services.

A switch to digital performances, cast of Dear Evan Hansen Perform ‘You Will Be Found’- Screenshot from YouTube

Abi Dent said: “There’s definitely been some advantages to it, for example, there are some skills that I have never been able to do that I got from being at home.”

OXOPS have been able to establish a diversity and inclusion programme during lockdown which will make their society more welcoming and accessible.

After hosting numerous virtual sessions, OXOPS plan to continue some online events and meetings as they realised it involved a broader group of people.

Ed Blagrove said: “As some of our members get older, we want them to be able to still participate in society activities by holding some of them at home.”

Theatres in Oxford

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