End of year lists have become a ubiquitous part of December, with writers duking it out over the best albums, TV, cinema, and theatre released over the last twelve months. In any other year we’d be doing the same, but as literally nobody needs reminding, 2020 was not your average year. So instead, we asked some of our team to tell us about the things in the industry which gave them hope this year.
Matt Barton: I found Chichester Festival Theatre’s decision to reopen with Crave admirably brave and bold. Amidst so many theatres’ plans to reopen with safe crowd-pleasers or wait for a Christmas panto — as understandable as those choices were — I found it hugely reassuring CFT opted for a challenging, strident play instead. I thought the piece was all the better for that determination to remain theatrically fearless, rather than scramble for the most accessible, innocuous programming. Next year, I hope theatres will return to risk-taking.
Mirren Wilson: There were a couple of events that really stand out in my theatre memory. In Scotland theatres are still very much closed — there’s a couple of Christmas shows happening but the idea of sitting live in an auditorium still feels very far away.
Firstly, the Nick Hern Books Playgroup. For 12 weeks, NHB offered out some wonderful plays to read, ponder over, ask questions, then listen to a podcast with the writer. During lockdown, this was a bit of a lifeline for me — it gave me structure, connection and tapped into my love and analysis of theatre. It felt like a project and I thrive when I have homework, but also it just allowed me to read lots of new plays which undoubtedly boosted my mood.
Secondly, the 48-hour Shakespeare Readathon. Former Shakespeare’s Globe MA students panicked at the thought of the Globe never re-opening due to the pandemic, and so, they decided to do something about it. The class put out an open call for readers to take part in a 48-hour readathon on Zoom which would then stream live on YouTube. This event would raise funds for Shakespeare’s Globe, and, of course, I was mad enough to lend my voice for a worthy cause. I was lucky enough to be reading for Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus. However I was not lucky, in the sense that those two plays would be read from 1.30-4.30 in the morning. It was the maddest thing — and I love it when people are mad for theatre. It felt important, it felt exciting and it undoubtedly felt hopeful. The love that people have for theatre is something that won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Emma Bentley: Mine is actors in commercial casting rooms. When commercial castings started opening up again I was invited to go to a few in-person meetings. I thought I was there just for the sweet dollar but it turns out watching eager actors nervously waiting to go and pretend to order a pizza brought me to a place of normalcy. It gave me the hope that whoever gets that job can use the money from it to fund their own studies, a show or maybe enough savings to finally get that lockdown puppy. Thanks, Dominos!
Holly Webster: Darren Criss [ex-star of Glee and Broadway performer] has been my person of the year. This year has been full of mental health problems, isolation and — oh yeah — a pandemic. However, all I’ve had to do is watch a show of his, listen to his music or watch a silly little video (I fully recommend his fake meditation video) and everything has felt better and manageable. I can’t express my gratitude for him enough, and I’m even blessed to have had some interactions via the Internet with him this year, which I’ve clung to like a plank of wood in a stormy sea.
Samuel Nicholls: Firstly — Rob Madge. It all began with an innocuous parody posted to Twitter: “the self-indulgent performer vs the MD who just wants to get the early train”. Since, then actor Rob Madge has made thousands of users giggle with nostalgia as he lampoons every aspect of the (temporarily closed) musical world. Nothing is safe from Rob’s wise-cracking pastiches: not the ham-fisted use of pop songs in pantos, nor overly cloying Instagram takeovers, or even his own childhood musical moments; this year, Rob’s videos have been laugh that many of us sorely needed (also, shout out to his mum – the unwitting highlight of every video).
And secondly, Bectu. Whether advocating for more support for freelancers and contractors, highlighting examples of unfair treatment, or even providing legal and monetary assistance, Bectu (the union of non-performing creative workers) has been a God-send for many this year. When times are especially tough, it’s vital to know that you’re never alone – that 40,000 of your peers are ready to stand with you through the hardships. After all, Billy Bragg said it best.
Samuel Sims: I have to second (the other) Sam on Bectu. Like sooo many others this year, I was furloughed by the theatre I was doing front of house in and ultimately made redundant a few months ago. The bectu reps – and one in particular that were stationed at my workplace were just sublime. They supported not only those who were members but everyone else, offering constant help and support – especially with redundancy talks as the theatre tried to fiddle people out of what they were entitled to. This one person – they must remain nameless, but I have to single them out – really went above and beyond the call of duty and I only wish she’d get a medal or something.
And just all of us creative folk, really. We’ve gone through the mill this year but we’ve proven just how hardcore we are and how we won’t collapse on the floor and cry in the face of adversity (not for long anyway). Being an artist has always been tough but it’s prepared us for shit times like this and we WILL get through it. Big shoutout and hug to all of the freelancers out there and those doing front of house on the side. What. a. year.
Finally, my team here at AYT. There have been points where I thought we wouldn’t survive but we avoided that because of the very hardworking and passionate team that is at the helm. This company would not be what it is – 11 years down the line, without them and of course – you. Here’s to 2021 – a year that will see AYT go to the next level. Watch this space.
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