If, six months ago, someone had said to me ‘a pandemic the like of which we have never seen in our lifetime is about to hit and all industries will be shut’ I would have been horrified, but of course supportive of the reasons behind such a monumental move.
However, if six months ago someone had said to me ‘a pandemic the like of which we have never seen in our lifetime is about to hit and all industries will initially be shut down, but after a few months they will come back, not the theatre though, that industry we will remain closed’ I would have laughed and said: “well, that would be ridiculous, like living through a paradox in a tyrannical society!”
My name is Philip J Hawkins and I am the Managing Director of ‘Total Productions Theatres UK Ltd’ a thriving and relatively young company that tours theatrical shows all over the UK. I am passionate about what I do, it’s been my life and I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved, and produced, as a Company. Not only this is a commercial company, but we have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity, utilising our position to bring awareness to the plights of some charitable organisations. Just over six months ago Total Productions had three to seven shows on the road every weekend.
Six months ago, it all stopped overnight for all of us, and as one we moved into the new world, a world with Corona. At first, we were all in it together and fully supportive of this crazy and surreal situation, it was scary, to be honest: none of us knew anything, we were given new figures and information every day, and every day the world as we knew it changed a little more. All income stopped overnight, my once-thriving company was essentially dead in the water along with so many others in so many industries. To add to the pressure of this situation, on a personal level, we were at that time about to have our first child. Our beautiful daughter was born into a very surreal world, I couldn’t go into the hospital building for appointments and my wife had to attend scans alone, no one could visit after the birth, there was no professional support. We had our baby (I was allowed into the delivery room for the actual birth, heavily masked and gowned) and my wife and child were discharged and sent home at 3.30 am! Once again, at the time we understood although it did surprise and confuse me to see doctors and nurses chatting with not a mask in sight, eating lunch with apparently unwashed hands, and without observing social distancing!
We came home with our child and no news on our company’s future or income - then, a grant!! Great! A lifesaver!! That got us through…… a month! We didn’t get a mortgage holiday, no let up on rent, or insurances. I have an office, a lock-up, a studio, three tour vans, not to mention the many performers and technicians involved in the shows and Total Productions’ office, who all of a sudden had no work, but still, we understood. I truly believed that we wouldn’t be left by the wayside - I had to!
Many weeks in, bit by bit, the world started to re-open. Strange nonsensical rules and legislations were put into place, the doubt started to creep in, the facts on the news did not quite add up. But still I believed theatres, our Company, our livelihood would not be left by the wayside.
How wrong I was.
You can now go to a pub, order a beer, sit in the beer garden or inside the pub. Every Friday evening I drive past a local pub with some fifty people in the beer garden, shouting, singing, arms around each other - but we could not open a theatre
You can now go to a restaurant and sit and eat without a face mask but, oh yes, if you walk in a takeaway you must wear a face mask, as if a kebab house is some terrifying source of corona itself! But we could not open a theatre.
We must wear a facemask, a facemask to stop the spread of the deadliest pandemic the world has seen in decades, but then we toss them in the trash? You would think it would be a biohazard? But what do I know? I just work in theatre. Or not, as the case may be.
We can walk the streets, we can shop, get our haircut, sit on the beach but we cannot open a theatre!
We can fly on a plane, a thin cylinder with people sitting shoulder to shoulder, but we must keep those dangerous theatres shut!
All the while other industries are returning, but the theatre industry is languishing, treading water, trying in desperation to keep heads above water whilst I look at my daughter terrified that I could lose everything I built to give us, her, a good life. My staff are working or looking for other jobs because their industry, their trade has stopped! But then, with all hope gone, we can open theatres with social distancing. Finally, a light at the end of a long, long tunnel.
However, with theatres operating at such reduced capacity it is not financially viable for either the venue or the production company to stage a performance.
Allow me to break down typical theatre costings:
Let’s say it’s a 400 seater, due to the lay-out and accessibility with social distancing it becomes an 88 seater, the show costs £3000 to stage, the marketing costs £750, office costs are around £400 per show, travel is £200, accommodation is £300, so at a total costing of £4650 tickets are £22, if all tickets are sold that’s £1936.00 without any deduction to the venue, so the production company makes a loss of £2714. If there are four of these performances a week let’s say there is an average loss (over provincial theatre sizes and ticket prices) of around £10000.00, that is not to mention the venues’ loss to staff the venue, and market the show. The above is without taking the venue split or hire into account, so the losses are far greater. There is no possible way for the company or the venue to make this financially viable - so all that opening the theatres has resulted in is the non-payment of furlough and so put thousands of crews out of work.
It seems totally nonsensical, fear has been planted to cripple our industry. Adult humans have a right, a right to a choice. Am I in a high-risk group? Should I go to the theatre? Am I not in a high-risk group? I will go to the theatre. Why not allow us the opportunity to fight, to survive, allow me the opportunity to get back to what I do and provide a livelihood, a future for my daughter. We have received no further assistance, official advice is to take out a loan. So I’m being advised to go into debt to try and keep my company alive, even though my company was thriving before the virus struck?
Open the theatres, to full capacity, allow us our livelihood, allow us our lives before we lose everything we have built, through no fault of our own.
Philip J Hawkins
Photo: Andrea Golinucci