If you build it, they will come

I am not generally in the habit of quoting rappers, but Kanye West said, "having money isn't everything, not having it is". It is hardly wisdom but it does reach to the core of most issues and the survival of performance venues and theatre practitioners and workers of every type is no exception.

The NRTF believes its traditional venues could open ahead of urban venues and larger institutions with Lombardo reporting that schemes' research shows audiences feeling most comfortable about returning to a village hall than other types of venue.

She puts this down to the complexion of close-knit communities where people tend to know their neighbours, but also the scale and nimble nature of performance events that take place within them.

At the same time, though, whilst some promoters can't wait to put shows on when restrictions are lifted, others remain very nervous, not wanting to be responsible for illness coming into their community space, and such a responsibility seems a disproportionate burden to put on the shoulders of this cohort of unpaid, often older workforce whose volunteering props up the network.

So it isn't just about the money, although who will bear the cost of the installation of hand-washing stations, pre- and post-event cleaning and online ticketing systems and card payments (and that assumes there is reliable coverage) remains to be seen.

The big questions appear to turn on issues of risk and it is, as Lombardo puts it, a can of worms.

"If someone in the community or an artist was unwell, if audiences didn’t feel safe attending or if a promoter wasn’t able to open the doors, whoever cancels that show is likely to be responsible for the financial liability so that is probably the hardest thing to unpick.

"If the box office take is smaller because you can't sell as many tickets then shows are going to need a larger subsidy so there is a financial implication there. Also in terms of logistics and budgets for hotels if artists cannot stay in the homes of the host community as they normally do in rural touring."

The considerations are largely the same for all venues and particularly the unsubsidised and cash-strapped will be looking at the maths of reduced occupancy alongside these increased costs and wondering if staying closed is the more economically viable choice.

At the forefront for everyone is safety and if those big questions can be successfully addressed then the show may indeed go on. Eventually.

The Jack's Kate Bannister, Holly Lombardo and Arrows & Traps' Ross McGregor all talk of long lead-ins, as long as a year in some cases.

"The difference with theatres [and other entertainment sectors] is that we need time—a play needs to be designed, cast and rehearsed, it needs to be marketed, put online and sold. Sometimes, we will spend a year working on putting a play on, we can't just restart", says Bannister.

Of course they can't, and we know that too, not least because, in addition to everything there was to do before, there is now also the challenge of reopening venues, redesigning interiors to maximise social distance-diminished capacity and moving people in and out of spaces whilst maintaining 2m gaps.

And it is a huge and, anticipating audience demand. Lyn Gardner's piece cites findings that only 20% of audiences would return to entertainment venues "just because they are open".

It begs the question, can companies and venues afford to walk the gangplank of financial risk only to find they have no audience? And that is as true of a village hall and rural touring artists as it is an arena and the spectacles that perform there.

Whatever our personal entertainment preferences are, the fact remains that the theatre industry is an ecosystem in perpetual tension and never in more fragile a state than it is in now.

It can no more afford to lose the volunteers than it can afford to lose the small venues that support and nurture the artists of the future or the big names with their eye-wateringly big bucks.

In this time of unfathomable uncertainty, like Friedman, I also look to the government to take urgent steps to rescue the theatre industry and secure for it a viable future. You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.

The NRTF is a registered charity and National Portfolio Organisation funded largely by Arts Council England. Neither The Jack, a registered charity, nor Arrows and Traps, a non-profit-making company, receive any regular funding. If you are able to support them with a donation, however, small, you may do so through their web sites.

Sandra Giorgetti would like to thank Holly Lombardo of the NRTF, Kate Bannister of The Jack and Ross McGregor of Arrows and Traps for their help with this article. You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there was said by Ed Cole.