"Business As Usual."
Russell's diary in the run up to lockdown
It’s an interesting exercise putting oneself back into the pre-lockdown headspace of late February and March. At what point did the theatre shutdown appear inevitable to you? I imagine every UK artist, theatre company and venue’s experience of that time was particular: depending where they happened to be in the lifecycle of a project; how big or small an organisation they were; where in the country they were; how well-funded; how established; how privileged... and a myriad of other factors.
As for our own tiny company, we were preparing for our third full show, Fragments – a production that’s been several years in development. Rehearsals were due to start on 30th March. The show was set to open on April 30th at London’s new Playground Theatre, where it would run for 2.5 weeks before touring to the Old Fire Station in Oxford. As producer and director I was gearing up, gathering momentum, assembling the team, getting everyone excited about the show – as the pandemic loomed.
I’ve never felt such cognitive dissonance as in those weeks leading up to March 17th, when the UK’s theatres went dark. While European countries were banning gatherings and locking down, the message from our own government was ‘business as usual’. The overwhelming sense I had from the theatre industry was ‘the show must go on’.
Four weeks before our rehearsal period was due to start, things were so strange that I started jotting down my thoughts. Now, as theatre starts to make its first tentative steps towards very partial reopening, I'm thinking a lot about what we've learned as a sector these past 5 months, what is changing and where that change will last.
I'd be interested to know what other people's experiences of the lead up to lockdown were, and how you look back on them with 5 months' hindsight. The following – for what it’s worth and for the archive – is my own (slightly condensed) journal of those weeks.
Week of 24 February
We’re at f h space for a week of puppetry workshopping. Fragments has a lot of shadow play using hand-held light sources and old-school overhead projectors, a visual language whose development has been led by our puppetry director Jess. This week we need to turn our concepts into sequences and workout any script changes before rehearsals, only 4 weeks away...