“Without stories there would be no history. No Bible. Every single community that has ever existed on this planet is only as strong as it is stories.” Giles Terera
Theatre and the performing arts make a powerful contribution to society and national identity, it is at the heart of communities across the UK and makes areas richer both culturally and financially. The shared experience and feel good factor of a night at the theatre is part of our cultural identity and enhances well-being. Now the theatre sector faces one of the biggest challenges in its history, Julian Bird of the Society of National Theatres warns “70% of our venues will run out of cash by the end of the year”
This is why the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre welcome the latest announcement from DCMS to set up a new Entertainment and Events Working Group and will be working together with Arts Council England, Association of British Orchestras, One Dance UK and many other organisations to find solutions that enable us to open our venues and businesses safely.
“We have been liaising closely with our members and then with DCMS to ensure that the complex needs of theatre are understood. Theatre currently has no income coming in and over 70% of our venues will run out of cash by the end of the year if we are not able to find an alternative model to social distancing. The formation of this taskforce is critical.” Julian Bird Chief Executive Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre
In preparation they have set up three working groups with representatives from freelancers and organisations across the broad theatre and performing arts industry to ensure that they have practical and workable solutions that can feed into the new working group. This will also enable important discussions with Public Health England and other specialists. The groups will be expanded as necessary but currently the key focuses are:
Rehearsals and pre-production
Operating venues safely
The picture is a devastating one, one that will long impact the sector, which employs over 290,000 people and currently over 70% of those jobs are at risk and many theatres are facing a perilous future. Across the UK over 34 million people visit theatres each year generating ticket revenue of £1.2 billion.
Survival means working together with national and local government on a solution that allows theatres to open safely, so audiences and staff feel confident and can continue to entertain and inspire people as they have been doing for hundreds of years. One of those who “entertain” us is the Olivier award winning actor Giles Terera MBE who is lending his voice to support the group. The British actor, musician, and filmmaker is best known for his work in the theatre, particularly in the recent London production of Hamilton’s original cast as Aaron Burr for which he won the 2018 Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. As a filmmaker his first documentary, Muse of Fire, premiered in autumn 2013. Before the lockdown he was about to start working on new musical based on Sammy Davis Jr.‘s life, Sammy the show was set to open at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in London in July. ALT caught up with Terera to talk, lockdown, supporting the theatre sector and why Black men are dying at alarming rates of COVID-19 globally.
ALT: What has lockdown been like for you good and bad, what would you be working on?
GT: I do not really use the word lockdown as it is a term usually used in prisons, but I would have been in the final stages of pre-production for a theatre production. A musical based on the life of Sammy Davis Jr. Written by my friend Leslie Bricusse and directed by my mentor Clarke Peters.
ALT: What are some of the biggest fear’s actors are having right now?
GT. I can only speak personally and from conversations I have had with peers. I think that some of the fear’s actors are having now are that they will not be able to pay their rent, mortgages or feed their families. A lot of my focus is on new artists, young actors, musicians etc. I do not think it is possible for me to have concerns isolated from the large picture. People I speak to are concerned about what will happen to the arts, but they are also concerned about what will happen to the environment, to society, to the education and health of their children. The concern is- What is life going to be? In the (new) world in which we find ourselves how do we live? This is why stories/drama/theatre are so vital, they deal with the question of we How do live?
ALT: What good can you see coming out of this pandemic?
GT: I think there will be a Shakespeare who emerges from this time. The gender or the colour does not matter but history shows that these very particular moments produce very particular people.
ALT: What was it like winning the Olivier Award for Best Actor?
GT: In the moment? It was a sort of outer body experience, so it is hard to accurately describe. But my abiding memory of the day is being together with all my friends. We had to be in the Albert Hall from about 10am. We rehearsed, staged our number, teched it, got changed into our fancy clothes, did the red carpet, then got into costume, then performed the opening number, then got changed out of our costumes and back into our fancy clothes again and went out and sat and enjoyed the show. So, we were running around the whole day. Before the start of the show we were all in the dressing room they had assigned us in the bowels of the Albert Hall. We were sharing with some the other shows who were performing. At one point just before we were due to start the show all of us in the Hamilton cast crammed into the dressing room and we started singing. All of us. We were so happy to just be experiencing this thing together. The other casts all looked a bit stunned, but it was very natural to us. So that is my sharpest memory- being with my brothers and sisters.
ALT: What made you decide to become an actor?
GT: I never really decided to become an actor, there was just one day when I realised that it was what I had always been. From as far back as I can remember I was always making up stories and singing and seeing stories in different situations.
ALT: How are you digesting the news that Black men are more likely to die during this pandemic?
GT: The fact that Black men are more likely to die in this pandemic. Again, I find it difficult to look in an isolated way at what is happening. Black men are more likely to die but Black men are more likely to be stopped and searched on the street. Black men are more likely to be shot for simply walking in their own neighbourhood. The first challenge is to not be defined by anyone who does not have your best interests at heart. I think it is important to know scientifically why this information is so.
ALT: You are lending your voice to The Society of London Theatres campaign to save the theatre sector: what do you say to 70% of venues running out of cash by the end of the year?
GT: I am not a businessman, a theatre owner, a commercial producer, or politician but once again I am drawn to the larger picture. There are many companies and organisations across this country who have already been wiped out because of successive cuts from successive governments. There are already drama departments in schools nationwide which have been wiped out because of cuts and the refocussing of what our educational priorities should be. And as a result, hundreds of thousands of young people are being denied the realisation of their brilliant potential. Therefore, we as a people lose out. Therefore, at this point I would say it is a case of whether you feel stories and music have a place in our lives at all. In our human experience. Full stop. If you do not, then carry on and do nothing about the current situation. However, if you do believe that human beings benefit from the ability to tell stories then act and act now. If I, an ordinary working actor must explain and justify why stories and music are integral to human beings then there is something very wrong somewhere.
ALT: You are about to interview Dame Judi Dench for Mountview tell us what you are most looking forward to about that?
GT: It is always great speaking to Judi for three reasons. One- she has an amazing sense of humour. Two- she is incredibly selfless. Three- she is also extremely committed to helping new actors, so she is always extremely easy to talk to. These combined with the fact that she is possibly the greatest actor on the planet makes for an exciting conversation. The thing I am perhaps most excited by is that she has this extraordinary capacity to inspire other artists which is my main idea behind these conversations.
ALT: What would you say to actors out there right now getting anxious?
GT. The same thing I always say to actors getting anxious- Use it. Use it as fuel. To a certain extent we are used to anxiety and uncertainty. Often, we hear people and opinions who consider actors luvvies or weak or complaining. This is bollocks and reveals a very small understanding of the world we are in. Without stories there would be no history. No Bible. Every single community that has ever existed on this planet is only as strong as it is stories. During this time of isolation think what your life would have been without television, movies, books, music. Humans have been telling stories for hundreds of thousands of years. That will not change. The question is how those stories are told. We must not wait to be told how we are going to tell our stories; we must create and define how we are going to tell our stories. As difficult as that will be, we must. I would also say do not withdraw. Talk. Find out. Use your voice. Be vocal. Be ready. Isolate but do not switch off.
To find out more about the Entertainment and Events working group click here.
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