All The World’s A Stage – Our Theatres in Lockdown

The on-going lockdown due to the coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on us all; on our businesses, our livelihoods and our personal lives. Many organisations in our arts and culture sectors have been particularly affected due to the performance nature of their work and without the means to bring live audiences in their venues; their core business has suffered a great deal. Whilst some organisations are arguably better placed to shift their business models online, such as organisations involved in film, the experience of theatre has live performance at its heart. We looked at three of our beloved theatres here in Bristol, to find out how the lockdown has affected them.

Tobacco Factory Theatres, Raleigh Rd, Southville, Bristol

As a charity with only 5% of its annual costs coming from public subsidy, Tobacco Factory Theatres has always depended hugely on its loyal audiences. When it closed its doors in March, for the safety of all of its communities, the sudden loss of income placed the charity in imminent danger of permanent closure. However, due to the generosity of so many people who have donated and the Job Retention Scheme, Tobacco Factory Theatres is still here in August.

During that time, a skeleton team have been distributing grants, on behalf of The Gane Trust, to freelance artists who are experiencing hardship, and working tirelessly to ensure the survival of Tobacco Factory Theatres. A grant from Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund will enable the organisation to stay afloat until October. But sadly, with the Job Retention Scheme closing at the end of that month, Tobacco Factory Theatres has had to make the heartbreaking decision to make redundancies, reducing staff costs by 70% in order to keep the organisation afloat.

“Whilst audiences are the lifeblood of Tobacco Factory Theatres, our staff are its beating heart and most valuable asset. We thank them for their skills, passion and wisdom which have made the theatre a place to be proud of, and for their patience, understanding and courage during these hardest of times. We are working hard to plan for the reopening of our theatres as soon as it is safe and financially viable to do so and to continue talking to all of our communities in the meantime, finding out how Tobacco Factory Theatres can best serve them in this changed world.


For anyone in a position to help secure the future of Tobacco Factory Theatres and those we work with, with any level of donation, you can visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/make-a-donation/. Artists can also find out about our free Artist Membership scheme at www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/artist-membership to talk to us about the impact of Covid-19 on our communities and the future for our sector. An enormous thank you to everyone who has already made a donation.”

Mike Tweddle, Artistic Director and David Dewhurst, Acting Executive Director

To donate to Tobacco Factory Theatres: https://tobaccofactorytheatres.com/make-a-donation/ and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

The Wardrobe Theatre, 25 West Street, Old Market, Bristol

The Wardrobe Theatre has cancelled all performances from March-August 2020 and there is a big question mark hanging over everything booked in from September 2020 onwards, including Christmas. With the current rules soon allowing indoor theatres to reopen to social distanced audiences, we’re going to be running a couple of very small test performances to see how we could run a night with these rules in place and whether it’s practical for us to run a whole season like that. We’ll have to see how those go!

We have no definitive date of when we will reopen yet but when we do, we will be launching a crowdfunder to help us reopen and to support the artists and theatre companies we want to bring here.”

Matthew Whittle, Co-Director of The Wardrobe Theatre

To donate to The Wardrobe Theatre: https://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/donate/ and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre, King St, Bristol

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Bristol Old Vic has embarked on a consultation process with affected staff in the face of a significant reduction in the work it can undertake and the income it can generate.  It is anticipated that over 20 roles from its full-time workforce of 60 could be at risk.

“We’re used to having to fight for our funding in the arts, but this time we are in the same boat as tens of thousands of businesses from Penzance to Pitlochry. On 17 March, 75% of our income disappeared and we’re clinging to the lifeline of the Job Retention Scheme to keep our heads above water, until lockdown eases…”

Tom Morris, Artistic Director & Charlotte Geeves, Executive Director

“…We are hopeful that the Government’s Cultural Investment will support our survival further as we prepare to reopen the theatre gradually over the coming 18 months. However, there is no avoiding the fact that the current circumstances mean that we will be unable to recover the income levels we’ve built up over the last decade with any speed or predictability. Therefore, in order to ensure Bristol Old Vic survives and is able to emerge, we have to reshape our business.”

Bristol Old Vic’s Executive Director Charlotte Geeves

“It is with enormous regret that Bristol Old Vic has begun a consultation process to reduce the size of its workforce due to the COVID-19 crisis. The last 5 years have brought astonishing success for Bristol Old Vic and the Board are very clear that these successes have been achieved through the skills and dedication of our wonderful workforce. Nonetheless, by taking these steps now, we are putting ourselves in a position to emerge flexible, solvent, and fighting fit to meet the challenges of the post-COVID world.”

Bristol Old Vic’s Chair, Liz Forgan

Bristol Old Vic is launching a campaign to reopen the theatre and would love your help. Every pound you give will go directly into making shows and employing the artists who work with the theatre to make them. To make a donation visit: https://bristololdvic.org.uk/support-us.

Stay in touch with Bristol Old Vic Theatre on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

It is clear that despite their remarkable flexibility and the dedication of their staff, our theatres need the support of their patrons more than ever in these unprecedented times. Reduced activity and closure doesn’t only affect those directly working for our theatres, but the thousands of performance artists, designers, technicians, makers, musicians and countless others who work to bring us their craft. Furthermore, in the words of Victor Hugo, “The theatre is a crucible of civilization. It is a place of human communion… It is in the theatre that the public soul is formed.” In these times of great change and unrest, our theatres are a crucial part of our sense of community and ourselves.

Article by Emma Windsor


There are many ways you can support our theatres in these difficult times.  Direct donations make a real difference and can help support both staff and the artists who rely on theatres for their livelihoods. Becoming a member of the theatre also provides a vital lifeline for their survival and journey ahead, during and following the coronavirus pandemic.  Some theatres are also involved in initiatives that support their subsidiary businesses, such as the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme that runs throughout August, and run their own online stores with great gifts for theatre lovers.

Finally, if financial support is not something you can do at the moment, joining their mailing lists, and liking and sharing theatre social media posts, ways to donate, and online shows, is a great way to show your support and appreciation.  Your theatre needs you more than ever, and with your support a better and brighter future for our theatres is possible.   


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