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A rehearsal in early March of Jessica Swale's play Blue Stockings, which had be due to open in early April but has now been suspended.

A rehearsal in early March of Jessica Swale’s play Blue Stockings, which had been due to open in early April but has now been suspended (photo: Peter Mould).

As theatres go dark, Stables chair looks for light at the end of the tunnel

As theatres everywhere are closed down for the duration of the pandemic, Brian Hick spoke to Neil Sellman, chair of the Stables Theatre, on the effect the closure is having on them and their future plans.

Neil Sellman has only been in place for a year and in that time has overseen a broadening of the Stables’ outreach and involvement in the local community. Needless to say this has come to an immediate halt with the onset of the coronavirus.

‘Thankfully we are in a secure position financially, even with having to close the theatre with immediate effect,” he said. “We rely almost entirely on volunteers, and the local community have always given us strong financial support. We have wanted for some time to open up the theatre for greater community use and had just started to do so when the pandemic hit us.’

Given the importance of volunteers to the Stables, I wondered how self-isolation was affecting them. ‘At least 80% of our volunteers come into the risk category! The majority of them are fit, well and enthusiastic, but realistically we all need to be very careful at this time, and it would be quite wrong to allow people to work with us if they were putting themselves, and others, at risk by doing so.’

And how were plans for the future going? ‘Looking at the shows booked in for this season, we had 42 listed, of which seven have taken place. However, we may have to reschedule or cancel many of these if the epidemic continues. As we have no dedicated staff within the theatre for particular jobs, it is difficult to retain consistency of support, which is why we have reluctantly decided to close for three months, subject to further advice.’

Lights have now gone out at the Stables for three months (photo: Stables website).

Lights have now gone out at the Stables for three months (photo: Stables website).

Getting going again

‘We hope to get going again in July, reopening our art gallery and resuming rehearsals. If all goes well, we’ll put on our first post CV production, Blue Stockings, in September. But before then, in August, we hope to present productions by visiting professional companies.

‘As long as we are given the all-clear to do so, we could start quite quickly, as plays were already in rehearsal and could be restarted with relative ease once casts can meet up again.

‘Our website gives details and we try to keep it updated on an almost daily basis as the situation changes. Members can now choose to get refunds for tickets already purchased or defer them on the assumption that the plays will be staged at a later date.

‘This, obviously, is not the case with visiting shows, like Antony & Cleopatra, where we are in the hands of the companies themselves as to their future plans, and immediate decisions to cancel.

‘Valuable as the internet is, we are very aware that many of our regular patrons don’t have access to IT and we are therefore making a point of sending letters (almost unheard of these days!) to ensure everyone knows what is happening. We hope to bring them all good news of an opening date in the near future.’

Let us hope that the dynamism shown by the Stables Theatre is able to continue once this pandemic has passed, and will return to us refreshed, renewed and as viable as ever.

Stables chair Neil Sellman addresses the first cast meeting of Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins, which he is directing. It had been due to open in June.

Stables chair Neil Sellman addresses the first cast meeting of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins, which he is directing. It had been due to open in June (photo: Peter Mould).

Posted 20:25 Tuesday, Mar 24, 2020 In: Performance

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