What’s been going on this year at the Theatre?
Today marks one year since the Blakehay Theatre closed its doors, due to the increasing concerns surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak. However, just because the venue has been closed does not mean we haven’t been busy…
Let me introduce myself – my name is Naomi and I’m the Theatre Housekeeper. Some of you will know me by sight, but others not as I work mostly behind the scenes at the theatre. We are so thankful for your support; it’s been a difficult year for everyone and it just feels like everything has just been stopped.
But that’s not completely the case and so we wanted to share with you a brief account of what’s been going on with the theatre over the last year.
Our Year Began
The year 2020 started when we welcomed the extremely funny show of Swan Lake, a Co-production between Theatre Orchard and Living Spit. Many more shows and events were planned for an exciting year. On 7th February, we won the Chamber of Commerce Award for Best Evening Out. We were thrilled that others loved our theatre as much as we do!
Each week, our regular Do Yoga with Emma Gliddon and Tidalwave Dance with Emma Duffill Community Classes were enjoyed in our studio and our monthly Coffee Mornings, run by our fantastic volunteers, brought many of you in for a chat.
Then on 16th March, we were told we had to close and the whole country went into lockdown due to Covid-19. So, we cleaned the venue and cleared ourselves out of the theatre and started to work out what working remotely would look like for us. It was something we had never conceived of being able to do before.
What did we figure out?
Staff could talk with each over through Zoom video meetings and e-mails, we could talk to our customers through a remote Box Office and keep everyone updated through our website, Facebook and E-Newsletters. So we set about doing this, just as soon as we were able. The most important thing was to keep everyone safe.
Meet the Team
We introduced ourselves in a blog series entitled Meet the Team, which can be found here on our website. Some of us you will meet when you attend a show and others, like me, will be behind the scenes making sure your visit is both a comfortable and enjoyable experience. We told how we came to join the team and why we love working at the theatre.
For fun, we also introduced you to our friendly ghost Frank and brought you a visual tour behind the scenes at the theatre. Activity pages available on our website for our younger fans helped keep young minds busy.
If we were not able to invite you into our theatre, we wondered how we could bring the theatre to you. By working with a couple of our productions companies we were able to bring you virtual productions – a special thank you goes to Honalee Media. Alongside this, a lot of theatres and companies across the UK were going above and beyond to produce content or at least make previous works accessible from home during this strange circumstances, e.g. National Theatre at Home and The Shows Must Go On. Therefore, we were able to provide you with links that would take you to shows that other theatres and organisations were screening and streaming. We hope you enjoyed the great range of content.
A Safe Theatre
In addition to working from home, the team had to learn at this time how to make the theatre a Covid Safe Zone so we were able to reopen, when possible, for socially distanced small exercise classes and meetings in our bar. We deep cleaned and provided sanitizing stations and introduced the wearing of masks as well as adopting the NHS App system for quick alerts if positive cases were reported. In addition, we created a grid on our Studio floor so teachers and attendees had their own personal floor space equally spaced and distanced from one another.
Our staff began working in the theatre once again, albeit in small bubbles. We opened with measures in place from the 14th September only to go back into lockdown on 5th November. We were very disappointed but knew it was for everyone’s safety. The short time we were able to offer these services was fantastic – everything we had put in place to make us Covid secure worked great and we had a lot of interest from new companies looking to start their Community Classes with us at the Blakehay Theatre.
Culture Recovery Fund
Our Manager, Sally Heath, and Town Council officers worked hard and very quickly with a tight turnaround to put in an application for the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. We were thrilled and all celebrated (from our homes) when we were awarded £323,000 so that we could make the theatre even safer and more comfortable for our audiences and companies to return too. It has also enabled Rob, our Theatre Technician, to purchase equipment and develop live streaming of small performances and, ultimately, shows in our own theatre: Blakehay@Home. We were able to premiere our first in-house stream on both our Facebook page and dedicated YouTube channel on Valentine’s Day 2021 – Blakehay@Home with Simon Newton. This is an exciting new venture and we cannot wait to share more news about it soon as we continue to develop and create live streams.
Virtual Exercise Classes
Similar to sharing links to streaming full length productions, our links to online exercise classes meant all of us were able to keep fit and healthy and join with others who would encourage us to stay strong. A large variety was available: Tai Chi with Tony Dove each day, online Ballet with South West Dance Theatre and new classes such as SASS by Inspire who are an up and coming, local company. We list these in our Events sections on our website and Facebook page for everyone to view and choose from.
You helped us discover more about our story and a beautiful wall display was made by Tim, our former Technician. This display (which you can read about it on the website) will be found in our foyer, along with a leaflet you will be able to pick up to learn more when you are back visiting us. Historian Cllr John Crockford-Hawley kindly wrote and produced a booklet telling the history of our theatre to help raise funding for the theatre at this difficult time. If you would like a copy, they will be back on sale soon! We are just exploring alternative methods of sales until the Theatre and Museum can safely reopen. Please keep your eyes peeled for more information on this soon.
In September, we opened virtually along with other historic sites locally for Heritage Open Days 2020 to bring a safe and interesting way to explore the theatre and learn about the building.
New Production Company
We became part of the Town Council’s new venture to bring events to Weston: EverForward Events. Their first event, with socially distanced pods for families and support bubbles, was WsM Halloween Fest in Weston Town Quarry to bring safe outdoor entertainment. Our volunteers and staff were there to aid and guide you. The first night was a great success but sadly the second day had to be cancelled, due to high winds and bad weather that caused damage to the site and made it ultimately unsafe to continue. The weather this time stopped the fun but there will be more events to look forward to so please watch out for them.
2020 was the year we have been looking at our Carbon Footprint and asked ourselves the question; how are we as a small theatre impacting on our environment? What can we do to begin making changes that will see us reducing these effects and become Carbon Neutral? This is a journey that is positive and uplifting and we hope you will support us – we can all play our part and we will bring you more about this in the future.
Our Box Office
Our Box Office is still open virtually so please do get in touch if you want to know more about our shows and events that we have lined up for when we reopen and return. Check out the website and our Facebook page where all the information on the shows and new dates are displayed. The team have tried to keep you inspired and updated with our E-Newsletters, Blogs, Facebook posts and Instagram pictures – we hope you have enjoyed our posts.
On 6th January, we were put into the country’s third lockdown while we fight this pandemic and this is where we remain at the time of writing this post.
What a highlight – after such a difficult year, we were informed we had been awarded Theatre of the Year in the South West of England by Prestige Awards for 2020/21. They expressed particular praise for our online content and our determination to maintain communication with our patrons throughout this pandemic.
We are about to enter a period of building work which uses some of the money we received from the Culture Recovery Fund. These works will further improve our theatre and ensure it is ready for its next stage as a vital building, part of Weston’s Heritage Arts Culture vision for the next ten years. It’s a very exciting time and we hope you will be there with us along the journey and we look forward to unveiling an updated and safe theatre ready for all to enjoy.
Please keep safe and take care while we all wait to get back to the things we love. All the team here at the theatre are so looking forward to welcoming you back to the thrill of a full house, the sounds, laughter and applause: all the wonderful experiences of Theatre.