WELL, it’s been a long 15 months, hasn’t it?
Temples of drama shuttered and silent; actors, directors, stage managers, set designers, and costumiers wondering where their lives had gone. And audiences bereft of their beloved live performances.
Then the announcement last Friday by the Taoiseach that theatres would reopen on June 7. It took everyone by surprise. No advance warning to those most involved?
“No, we had no idea at all,” says Sophie Motley, Artistic Director at Everyman.
“We were very surprised. I’m still trying to get to grips with it.”
What was noticeably missing in that announcement by Micheal Martin was any kind of detail on such reopening. Will full houses be allowed, or will numbers be limited? If limited, to how many exactly? What will the restrictions be? So far, those involved in the profession here in Cork haven’t got anything concrete in the way of facts and figures.
“We’re assuming that it will be 50 people only in the case of the Everyman, but we simply don’t know,” says Sophie.
“It has been a strange time for all of us over the lockdown, but to tell the truth, we’re more in the dark now than we ever were.”
And, with the best will in the world, and the huge and unstinting support from all their staff and volunteers, it will take them at least three weeks to get everyone back in and trained to the level required under Covid restrictions.
“Oh, we want to do it. We have waited so long for this, but we have to get it right,” says Sophie.
Eibhlin Gleeson, CEO of Cork Opera House, agrees, but says she and her team are really heartened to see the advances being made in the reopening of the arts and events sectors.
“This has been a hugely challenging and difficult time for everyone in our industry, in particularly artists and arts workers.”
Yes, she says, it will certainly be a long road back, “but it feels good to be in a position to start the journey.”
The Opera House is already planning to host a test event on July 10. Details are not yet available (hey, they only found out last Friday after all) but as soon as they are ready, Eibhlin and her team look forward to sharing the details of this great occasion with their patrons.
“I have to say, we are hugely excited about welcoming audiences back!”
Sophie Motley stresses that the biggest step will be to make people feel safe again in coming into the theatre.
“The majority of our audiences tend to be drawn from the older half of the population, many of whom have been cocooning throughout the pandemic. If you’ve been staying home, not seeing people, then even walking into town can be frightening. How long will it take for people to feel safe again?”
The Everyman, she reveals, is actively considering the possibility of outdoor performances, which is a great idea as well as being a safer option in trying times like these.
“I’m really excited about open air theatre and people coming round the performance space, just like they did in the old fairground days,” says Ms Motley.
Regina Crowley, actor, deviser, and director, declares that in fact she and Gaitcrash Theatre have had a busier 15 months than ever before.
“Being thrown back on ourselves more and more, we actually discovered how much creativity we had hidden away,” she says.
When directing the final year student show at the School of Music back in January, Regina felt that her students displayed more creativity than she had ever seen before. “They had to learn to be adaptable in these new circumstances, think outside the box.”
It was positive in so many ways, she affirms.
“You didn’t have all the difficulties and costs of big live productions. We did an audio piece back in November and asked people to tell us where they had experienced it — at home, in a car, on top of a hill, wherever. You might think of theatre in terms of the director, the actors, the production, but the audience is so hugely important. It becomes the creator in a sense.”
As a remarkable example of creativity, this coming weekend, a sound installation, Notes To A Star will take place on the rooftop of Blackrock Castle as part of the Cork Harbour Festival celebrations.
Created by Regina with Gabriela Mayer, it explores a creative dialogue between fragments of piano music and dramatic text, inviting the audience into a ‘listening oasis’ below. Incredibly, Blackrock Castle Observatory will encode this event and then beam it to a distant star.
“It will take 12 years for the sounds to arrive at their destination, can you believe that?” asks Regina.
The three nights of the show were booked out as soon as they went on sale, but she is hoping that it can be repeated at another time, with updates on how far the sound show has got on its journey to that distant star.
On the reopening of live theatres, Regina feels that the challenge now will be to turn that corner and see what is opening up ahead. “We need to embrace the adaptability we’ve all learned, and think of how to make things happen.”
Over the next few weeks, Theatre Nights every Thursday will keep you posted on what is evolving, what is coming up in live theatre. Whatever is planned, wherever it is on, we will aim to let you know. And if you have a project that is due to hit the boards over the next month or so, then make sure we know! Email the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.