Over the last 10 months, those running British theatres have undergone the kind of nightmare that would rival anything even the most imaginative of playwrights have put on to their stages.
Once again, every theatre in the United Kingdom is closed and this is mirrored across much of the world. Indeed, while London producers have attempted various stuttering starts, the most recent of which was stopped in its tracks after less than a fortnight, their equivalents in New York have kept theatres dark since last spring.
Producers appear to be eternal optimists, willing to put on shows that may be closed overnight without even the protection of a rudimentary insurance policy to guarantee against losses.
Taking matters a step further, even if many of the Christmas extravaganzas had filled theatres to capacity, that would merely have meant that the losses would be reduced, not turned into much-needed additional funding to offer promise and solidity as they head for an uncertain future.
Regrettably, we are now back in another period of thespian drought that looks likely to take us through to the anniversary of the fateful day when the government called a halt to live performance. Ever since, producers whether in the commercial or subsidised sector have been trying to reimagine theatre for the coronavirus era.
Today, with hindsight, most of those plans appear to have been very short-term, partly egged on by a government keen to paper over some very big cracks both in policy terms and with regard to the arts.
It doesn’t take an accountant to work out that if a theatre company expends more money than it makes, it will eventually be broke. Given all of the problems over the last year, that day could be just around the corner for far too many of our most esteemed and valued artistic institutions.
This should be a time for reflection and inspiration when artistic directors and their commercial managers get together to plan for a hopeful but realistic business model to take them forward not just through the first six months of 2021, when the stop-start version of production may be the best anyone can hope for, but looking five or ten years ahead.
In this way, they can avoid the mistakes of the past and establish a solid and viable way forward that goes way beyond trying to balance the budget and looks at the optimum means of creating exciting and vibrant theatre that will bring in new, diverse younger audiences while ensuring that the bank manager remains happy.
At the most basic level, it will be a case of hunkering down for the next few months and praying that a reluctant government comes up with a new financing package to replace the current version that is only supposed to run until the end of March.
A starting point might be to take a cold, calm look at the impact coronavirus is likely to have over the next 12 to 24 months. While the likes of Lord Lloyd Webber firmly believe that shows such as Cinderella can launch to full houses in May, that is almost certainly as fantastical as the show’s plot.
Realistically, it would not be a great surprise to discover that social distancing was still here in 12 months’ time, despite the benefits that mass vaccination will undoubtedly bring. Who knows what might happen beyond that, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that it may be around for the foreseeable future.
Business-wise, this means that theatres will have to cut their cloth very thin. They need to work out ways of reducing costs further, having already made painful decisions earlier in the pandemic.
Big budget musicals and large cast productions could be few and far between. Instead, we may have to get used to the joys of solo shows and two-handers with the kind of sets that please Peter Brook but are not always easy on the eye.
At the other end of the scale, and this may make a lot of readers very unhappy; if theatres are only going to be operating at one-third or half capacity then ticket prices must go up significantly. That will almost certainly still only leave the West End and fringe running at prices equivalent to those that were the norm respectively on- and off-Broadway 12 months ago.
The wealthier theatregoers should be able to take this in their stride, having spent far less of their disposable income over the last 12 months than would normally be the case. Regrettably, another group will have been unemployed or self-employed without income, desperate to put a meal on the table or enjoy even the basic pleasures of their previous lives.
Perhaps the solution would be for an enlightened programme of low-priced ticketing for those that are in real need?