A year ago today, theatres were told to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a normal year, over 34m people would visit theatres, so it has been a long interval since the show did not go on!
Empty chairs. Empty stages.
It was also Theatre Workout's 14th birthday!
Like many in the sector, we thought we'd be open again in a couple of months. We welcomed the government's support through the Bounce Back Loans, when we thought we'd be open in the autumn, and the Cultural Recovery Grants when we thought this would be over by Easter, but the impact on our lives remains acute.
We know many of our talented, amazing team will not be returning to work with us when workshops resume. Many of them have been displaced. Some have been fortunate and found opportunities and alternative work to keep them going, some seem to have left the industry all together, a situation reflected across the creative industries with so many freelancers who have not qualified for any of the government's financial support.
We now know that theatres will be reopening from 17th May, and most should be open by late June. They will be making extraordinary investments to get venues and productions back up and running with social distancing in place. Fortunately, theatres are ticketed and seated, so there are lots of ways theatres can manage audience safety, but it will be a while until they can recoup their losses.
Sadly, we know it will take much longer for Theatre Workout to reopen fully due to the delay in schools travelling for theatre trips, so will not be able to reopen until September at the earliest. Given how many international students we work with, we do not expect to even start to recover what we've lost until Easter 2022!
However, we are confident that if we can make it through, we will see an influx in demand. We just have to get there.
For a long time, we thought we had lost everything we had worked so hard to achieve in the 14 years prior. Having invested everything we had into Theatre Workout, our lives here in London were also in jeopody with the very real threat of bankruptcy, loss of our home, and disruption to our son's schooling among our top concerns.
In many ways we are very fortunate - we have a good support network of family and friends, most of whom were also going through tough times. They kept us going by listening, advising, and giving a metaphorical kick up the arse when we needed it! They stepped up to help us get the loans and grants we needed to survive, which have given us the chance of a future, and for that we are very grateful.
What this past year has taught me is that I am not as impervious to stress and depression as I thought, and that it is OK. I've learned to appreciate my family and friends much more, and learned that if I want people to be open and honest with me then I have to be so with them, and let them into the bad stuff and not just show the good. I've learned to accept that there are things I can't control, and I have accepted that Theatre Workout may still close - and that is also OK, because I won't.
I won't stop!
I've been through the wringer and feel more stable and determined than ever. Having never done drama at school, I appreciate how much it has changed my life, and that the battle to improve standards of drama and theatre education is too important to stop now.
If Theatre Workout has to close, then I will keep going and will start fresh to continue my work.
We've already diversified with a few new websites for specific programmes we run, we're developing an online curriculum of outstanding drama lessons for children, young people and industry professionals of all ages, and we're working with partners in the travel, education and travel industries to find new opportunities to aid our recovery.
Yes, I feel like I am stepping into the darkness. No, I don't know what hurdles are ahead of me. Yes, I believe I am on the right path, but I am prepared for anything and trust the dim light ahead of me will get brighter soon.
I owe it to myself, my family, my awesome team of practitioners, and everyone who has worked with me and supported me in the past 15 years to do everything I can to ensure Theatre Workout's survival!
More news on the theatre world today:
Theatres 'ready to fight' after year 'from hell': https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56394404
A year ago, the show did not go on. What happened next?: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-56153030
Covid: The night London's theatres went dark: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-55274219