When the first lockdown started, I was emerging from an unexpected period of confinement whilst I recuperated from surgery and I couldn't wait to get back to my normal theatre-going pattern. The first show at the Jack Studio Theatre, my local, was to be Diva Live From Hell and I was so happy to be seeing it.
Now, some fourteen months later, I find myself emerging from another unexpected period of confinement but this time I am not alone as society is making a collective reappearance. And there is little 'normal' about the world into which we take our first steps.
Some things don’t change though and I am greatly looking forward to the first show at the Jack, Stewart Pringle’s award-winning play Trestle, which opens there this week under government guidelines.
Technically, this means that a venue the size of the Jack could operate at 50% capacity but, because of the seating configuration, maintaining social distancing amongst the audience requires that the theatre operates at only 40% capacity.
Jack Studio Theatre artistic director, Kate Bannister, told me about the arrangements they have made: "when we open Trestle, we are not at the 21 June date, so we made the decision to run both weeks with social distancing just in case the roadmap didn't change.
"We can do the first two productions like that, but then it gets to the point that it is not viable to run at 40% capacity."
In its favour, though, the Jack has an independent side entrance to the theatre space, unlike some pub theatres which have not been able to open or work at all because access to their venue is through the pub. "It goes to show," she said, "how fragile it is, particularly on the fringe, and how difficult it has been for everybody to hang on."
Another practical consideration has been the extensive planning and implementation of the various safety measures.
"Thanks to support from the Theatres Trust Reopening Fund, we have installed two fans and they can change the air very quickly within the auditorium as fresh air comes in through one and is extracted by the other. They will run on low throughout the performance, and on full before and after the play and during the interval.
"Following the risk assessment, we taped up all the seats that cannot be used and we have other mitigations in place as well such as wearing a mask, sanitiser points, fogging and enhanced cleaning."
As well as detailing what to expect when you visit the Jack, Bannister and the team have made a short video showing the precautions they are taking to reassure people about their safety and that the guidelines are being followed.
She said, "it should give people a bit more confidence when they come in," and everything points to people wanting to see live performance at the Jack with Trestle looking to sell out.
"But", she continued, "there are so many things that we are not in control of and we always have to respond and react to the guidelines and regulations. We have made it as safe as we possibly can for the audience and the artists, and we have taken a lot of time and trouble to do that because safety comes first."
Bannister is glad to be back and performances are scheduled throughout the summer but as she says it depends on what happens next.
Overall, she is feeling a lot more positive than this time last year. Partly, this is because there is more clarity, if not certainty, about what needs to be done and they have put systems in place in order to be able to operate.
The game changer though has been funding from the Arts Council England Emergency Fund, the Culture Recovery Fund and Theatres Trust of which Bannister says, "without that, it would have been almost impossible to restart.
"[In the first lockdown,] we were not even able to go in and create digital work then, having received some funding, it helped to get the ball rolling.
"We had not been able to generate any revenue to put into work or create things and one of the things we have done with the funding is invest in technology so we can record work and we have been training in how to capture performances onstage for film so we can offer work online.
"We want to bring back live performance but, depending on how things go, recording performances and digital work gives us options and it does maintain access.
"Going forwards, any company at the Jack will be able to use our digital recording equipment—we are making that available to artists at no charge and that gives everyone the chance to film and record their work and if they wish to put it online."
Circling back, Bannister concludes, "so I am feeling a lot more positive because none these things were around this time last year."