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Live theatre to be “more accessible” says theatre boss

Published: 23 March 2021
Reporter: Steve Orme

Looking forward to a brighter 2021: Jonathan Saville

Live theatre will be more accessible than ever when venues reopen, according to the director of audiences and programming at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall.

Jonathan Saville hopes the venue’s 1,107 capacity Theatre Royal and 2,257-seater Royal Concert Hall will be able to open for the first time in 15 months in June 2021 when lockdown restrictions ease.

But performances are likely to feature a digital twist as touring shows seek to retain the broader audiences they have established via live-stream and on-demand broadcasts during the pandemic.

Saville said, “the market for digital theatre has been accelerated. While it’s impossible to recreate the live theatre experience, theatre companies that use live streaming to subsidise revenue from physical customers are hitting new audiences.

“Digital theatre breaks down attendance barriers for financial, health or accessibility issues and allows shows to target audiences who would struggle to attend physically.

“We present the work of others on our stages, so we won’t be driving digital theatre ourselves. But we’ll certainly accommodate it as live-streaming provides venues and producers with an additional financial reward on top of physical ticket sales.”

The Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall has hosted eight productions via streaming including Wise Children’s Romantics Anonymous and Tall Stories’ The Snail and the Whale.

But more than 200 performances have had to be rescheduled and 150 shows were cancelled. It presented the team with an “exhausting” challenge of negotiating the three lockdowns.

Saville added, “financially, digital theatre and live-streaming have provided a small financial bonus. It’s been a devastating year financially and our turnover has plummeted after it reached £18 million in the year before COVID-19.

“It’s been a really difficult situation to manage, in truth. For staff it’s demoralising and frustrating. But the safety of theatregoers and everyone connected with our theatre must always be of paramount importance.

“Response to our digital shows and planned socially distanced performances was great; we must remember that and look forward to a brighter 2021.”