It breaks our heart that we can’t do our traditional panto... but we're sure you'll love our online shows

The absence of their audiences in the theatre aisles is more poignant this month, says CEO of The Everyman Sean Kelly, because they traditionally hosted their panto. However, they have come up with a virtual programme of events instead
It breaks our heart that we can’t do our traditional panto... but we're sure you'll love our online shows

The Everyman are now streaming live performance, with their December programme of Christmas shows, while maintaining and continuing their Play It by Ear programme. Picture: Darragh Kane.

EVERYONE has their reasons for loving Christmas. At the Everyman, December always means panto and people, lots of them, of all ages.

From early in the morning, there is the sound of rehearsals, music and, best of all, the sound of children laughing. At show time (often there are three performances per day) the atmosphere is electric — parents, grandparents filing to their seats, children jumping out of their skins with excitement.

This year, of course is different. When I open the doors in the morning the first thing that strikes me is how dark and quiet everything is. We’ve sorely missed our audiences and our artists since lockdown began but now that Christmas is here, the absence is more poignant than ever.

The panto was more than just a piece of entertainment, it was a pillar of the Christmas experience for tens of thousands of people, it was where young people got their first taste of theatre as audience members and performers.

The buzz of a packed auditorium is something that our whole team has missed. 

For the Everyman, our audiences are our principal stakeholders, and are at the heart of every conversation we have about what we do and why. This is more than just an abstract principle. Our audiences are responsible for 92% of our income in the form of ticket sales. When this was wiped out virtually overnight in March we were faced with the terrifying prospect of attempting to run 100% of our business on the residual 8% of our income.

Sean Kelly, CEO Everyman Theatre. Picture: Gavin Browne
Sean Kelly, CEO Everyman Theatre. Picture: Gavin Browne

However, the Everyman is over 120 years old and has come through two world wars, a war of independence, a civil war, a worldwide flu epidemic and more than one economic crash. Even on the darkest winter evening, with the lights out and the building cold, ghosts of generations past glide through the theatre. So, we knew that throwing in the towel now wasn’t an option.

There was a huge amount of work to be done but donations flowed in. I can’t tell you how moving it was for all of us to see such steadfast support from our audiences when we needed it the most.

Of course, the Arts Council also rowed in with strong support and this, combined with government supports such as the wage subsidy kept this Cork institution alive during some of the bleakest times that it has known.

Once we began to find our feet, it was obvious that we had a duty to continue to serve our audiences and to support the wonderful work of our artists. 

So, with much trepidation, we presented our first ever online show in October of this year when we launched our Play it By Ear programme of audio events with Katie Holly’s Marion. I suppose we should stop being surprised by the unflinching support of our audiences by now but we were again bowled over by the public reaction, by the sheer numbers that wanted to tune in to hear our shows. This, in turn, helped us to provide some much-needed work for local artists who’ve seen their incomes devastated by Covid.

It’s been simultaneously strange and inspiring to sit in an empty auditorium, watching some of our finest artists putting their heart and soul into producing a magical experience for an audience they can’t hear or see. Better days will come and there’ll be a time again when we can sit shoulder to shoulder and rise as one to applaud these amazing artists but for now, trust me, they feel your support.

The success of our Play it By Ear programme has given us the confidence to widen our range of offerings this Christmas by presenting video streaming for the first time. We’ve been talking to our audiences a lot since March and it’s obvious that the cancellation of our panto, or the first time in almost forty years, came as a particular disappointment to many families. We’ve worked particularly hard on our online shows for families this Christmas we can’t wait to share them.

We are so grateful to all of the magnificent artists who’ve worked with us since October as well, of course, as our wonderful staff who worked tirelessly under unprecedented circumstances to bring us to this point – we’re very, very, lucky to have them.

It breaks our heart that we can’t admit audiences to our traditional panto this year or hear children squeal with excitement as the music starts and the curtain rises but we’re sure people will love the online shows that our panto stars are presenting this year – fairy tales with a fun twist. We won’t be able to see you but you’ll be able to see us and we’ll know you’re out there. All of us still sharing a magical Christmas experience, separate but together.

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