Relief for performers in UK roadmap; Irish approach is “disheartening”

Last month, the UK Government announced their roadmap for the first half of 2021, culminating in all social distancing restrictions being lifted on June 21st.
“Stage lights 3” by DanBrady is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There is excitement and uncertainty amongst performers in Ireland and across the sea as they hope to see a reopening of UK theatre this summer.

Last month, the UK Government announced their roadmap for the first half of 2021, culminating in all social distancing restrictions being lifted on June 21st.

This means that UK theatres and auditoriums could be full again by midsummer. In a statement Julian Bird, Chief Executive of UK Theatre said they “welcome the Government’s roadmap announcement as the country takes the first step towards easing lockdown.”

The announcement came the day before Micheál Martin announced the Irish Government’s latest plan ‘Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 – The Path Ahead’ which was significantly less optimistic. This plan extended Level 5 lockdown until April 5th with some changes in reopening schools, however, it included no mention of plans to reopen the arts and hospitality sector. 

Irish theatre has been closed for almost a year now with very little signs of reopening and this lack of clarity has been extremely frustrating for many artists. 

“For a country that is literally dripping with so many creative individuals…what I find really really heartbreaking is the Government hasn’t at least tried to give any specifically clear indication as to how we’re going to progress forward,” said Brian Gilligan, actor and performer.

When the UK’s latest roadmap was announced there was “a sense of relief” even amongst Irish performers, said Gilligan, as the reality of returning to work seemed possible.

Before lockdown began, Gilligan had been touring in the UK as a cast member in ‘The Lion King’. However, the show was suspended indefinitely on March 17th 2020.

“It’s very encouraging that the neighbours across the pond are actually trying to do something to get [the industry] back on its feet, to start to kind of reignite the industry,” said Gilligan.

Gilligan feels the current situation in Ireland is “disheartening” and that in order to truly help the arts industry it must be better represented in government.

“We’re constantly having TDs and ministers talking about the arts being funded, emergency funds this. The only people who are actually doing anything are the production companies.”

“All of the regional receiving houses up to the level of the Gate and the Abbey, they’re the people responsible for trying to keep the wheels turning,” he said.

Caroline Kay Keating is a singer-songwriter and musical theatre performer based in London. She is feeling a “rollercoaster of emotions” around the plan to reopen in the UK.

“[There is] a mixture of hope at the possibility of the industry opening up again, and apprehension that perhaps it won’t happen, or that it’s wishful thinking to hope that theatre will begin to open then,” she said. 

Keating who is originally from Dublin, is currently working on her own musical ‘Daisy’ which she hopes to stage later in 2021 however for now she is focusing on what can be done under the current restrictions. 

“Workshops and rehearsals are allowed to take place under current restrictions, but the pandemic still has a huge impact on making that a reality – what venues can we use, how can we ensure social distancing during the process, will the cast and creatives all feel safe in the current climate,” she said.

Although Gilligan expects that he will be able to return to touring by the summer, until that is announced he, his fellow cast members, and many others like them wait in hope. 

“Until it’s official, it’s all just waiting with bated breath and uncertainty and doubt, trying to stay positive,” he said.

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