Just because the doors of Derby Theatre are closed to the public doesn’t mean that behind the scenes there isn’t a lot of hard work taking place, aimed at keeping the arts community together.
Finding a way through the coronavirus crisis and ensuring there is artistic life beyond it is the central focus for Derby Theatre’s Artistic Director and Chief Executive Sarah Brigham and her team, who may not be staging plays at present but are supporting the community.
The arts organizations in Derby are also supporting each other as they look to find a pathway through these difficult times.
Sarah said: ‘I have online meetings with other theatres, we are there for each other and the Arts Council’s response has been exceptional, they acted quickly and have been really supportive.
‘I have had meetings on Zoom with QUAD and Déda and other local arts organizations, so it does seem like we are all in this together and are willing to help each other find a way through it.
‘We mustn’t forget the independent sector either, freelance artists have seen their income disappear with no Government help until June. Even that won’t help some of our emerging artists, so we’ve been holding advice surgeries, gathering information about the support available, putting together online workshops about managing a crisis, and looking after their wellbeing.
‘Our Youth Theatre has moved online and we have been delivering food parcels to young people in care as well, so it does feel like, alongside other venues, we have approached this in a community-focused way.
‘We have furloughed some staff but made a clear decision not to furlough any of our community and learning practitioners or artist development practitioners so they can deliver the support that’s needed.
‘In Abbey Ward, there are 50 young people still going to school and the schools are desperate for something to do with them, so we delivered an Easter project. We are very conscious of our community and civic function. Similarly, for our students, online lectures are still continuing.
‘We are living through unprecedented times and circumstances no-one is used to, so we’re running weekly wellbeing sessions for our staff. Artists and the artistic community are resilient because they are used to that uncertain pattern of life, but our staff and artists are going through all the things everyone is facing and the uncertainty of what things will be like in the future.’
First and foremost, though, Sarah and all at the theatre understand that the health of everyone comes first.
She said: ‘We have to tell ourselves we are incredibly lucky. I’m not putting my life on the line every day like our NHS staff, the people collecting our bins, or working in supermarkets. At the moment our focus is on them but eventually, society will not be in lockdown and we need to be prepared and ready to help people who have had a tough time through all this, celebrate and get back to normality.’
Life in lockdown means making difficult decisions. The Prime Minister made an announcement on 16 March advising the public not to visit public places like theatres but did not instruct them to close. Derby Theatre, however, took the decision to shut its doors for the protection of its staff and visitors.
Sarah said: ‘We thought after people had been advised not to go to theatres it would be irresponsible to keep the venue open, so we closed immediately.
‘I was in rehearsal at the time for Treasure Island and our co-production of Crongton Knights was about to open. The set was going in and my phone was buzzing; we knew we had to make the decision straight away.
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