WHAT a to-do! Just as the curtain was about to go up on pantomime season, the biggest time of the year for theatres, they were suddenly told to cut their audience capacity to 50%.
From a pandemic point of view, it is the right thing to do, given the frighteningly high case numbers and the new threat of Omicron. From the theatre manager’s or theatregoer’s side, it’s a disaster.
Theatres depend on Christmas shows. Panto traditionally fills the coffers that may have run dangerously dry during the year, giving them hope for the season ahead. It’s the one time of year they can count on full houses for both matinees and evenings: happy queues, crowds in the foyer, children chattering excitedly, parents as delighted as their offspring, remembering their own introduction to the pantomime.
For cast and stage hands too, not to mention set designers, costume makers, dressers, special-effects crew, music and lighting experts, it’s a long season running one show, with a reliable income.
Pantomime has always been a money-spinner. However, it has also always been tremendously expensive to stage. It’s not unusual to have more back-stage crew than on-stage cast.
Audiences expect dramatic scene changes, glorious costumes (especially from the Dame, who changes for practically every appearance), glittering lights, thrilling special effects. And so the calculations are made, the books are balanced with fingers crossed, and the show opens.
Now the government announcements, while good and sensible in themselves, have written a very different scenario, and theatre managers are wondering what to do, holding urgent meetings, trying to find a way of obeying the guidelines but still not disappointing the audiences who have been looking forward to this so much.
It’s not all bad news. At the Everyman, they have borne in mind from the early stages that restrictions were likely, and were already working on a 60% capacity plan, so it just needed a bit of reorganisation to reschedule those extra seat sales. Here is what they said: “Our box office team is working hard to re-allocate tickets for a small number of people whose booking has been affected by the recent government announcement reducing capacities at indoor events.
"Please bear with us and we’ll be in touch with you in the coming days if your booking has been affected. You don’t need to do anything – we’ll contact you and do our best to accommodate you with a new date that suits.
“Please, rest assured, we have plenty of availability left and anyone who has booked to see this year’s panto will be looked after!”
Similarly, the Everyman Sunday Songbook team are raring to go this weekend with A Rat Pack Christmas, featuring the Kings of Cool (Deano, Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr). Alan Carney, Linda Kenny, Cathal McCabe, and narrator Alf McCarthy will be giving it all they’ve got.
Meanwhile, to facilitate all who have booked tickets for the Cork Opera House panto, it will add an additional 26 shows to the run.
“The great news is we are going ahead,” said CEO, Eibhlín Gleeson. “It was touch and go for a few days while we established if it was actually possible for us to do it.
“However, the thought of cancelling the show was devastating to us all, having put so much love and energy into it to this point. We are delighted to have found a way to move forward. This means 50% of our audiences can retain their tickets and they will be valid on the date that they booked. However, this will also mean the remainder of our audiences will have to move to new dates.”
Patrons will be chosen to move by lottery, and the Opera House will contact all patrons who have been selected for new dates.
Finally, a Christmas Folk Concert takes place at Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh on Friday, December 10 featuring Jimmy Crowley and Eve Telford, and introducing Tom O’Sullivan Doors at 7.30pm.
Tickets and further information from Sirius Arts Centre.