World Theatre Day: The Grand and City Varieties 'cautiously optimistic' about reopening after 'horrendous' year
Leeds theatres which were "on the brink" of closure during lockdown say they are "cautiously optimistic" about welcoming people back if the Government's roadmap goes to plan.
The Grand and The City Varieties Music Hall have suffered a "horrendous year", losing 99 per cent of their income due to the pandemic.
But on World Theatre Day (March 27), there are signs of hope for the struggling performance spaces.
Amy Sanderson, head of communications at Leeds Heritage Theatres (LHT), said: “We were on the brink, there was a week in October where we were waiting to find out whether we’d got that recovery grant. All of the management team cried when we got it. It was an emotional day.
“It’s been a pretty horrendous year really for the entire industry, we’ve lost 99 per cent of our income as a company.
“There was a point at the end of October where we were just about ready to have to close the doors forever - we’d eaten up all of our reserves.”
The Grand and City Varieties closed on March 17, 2020, ahead of the first lockdown, and have barely reopened since.
City Varieties was open for four weeks in October last year for film screenings before the November lockdown.
Theatre-goers will have to wait until at least May 17 under Boris Johnson’s roadmap before the red curtains are drawn.
Ms Sanderson said: “We’re cautiously optimistic, I think if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year is that things change very quickly."
When the government’s roadmap for easing restrictions was laid out on February 22, Ms Sanderson said management at LHT were “really excited to go full steam ahead”, but grew cautious as the weeks went by in case “the roadmap slips”.
The Grand and City Varieties, which come under the LHT banner, were kept afloat during lockdown thanks to funding from Leeds City Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Ms Sanderson added: “There was a lot of really positive feedback on social media saying ‘cant wait to come back, we’re really excited'.
“It’s just going to depend on how people feel about coming back and sitting down inside somewhere for that level of time - it’s a bit untested but there’s definitely a demand for coming back."
At first there will be limits to how many people can fill the theatres and social distancing measures will have to be followed.
Ms Sanderson added: “We had a test run of how we operate as a Covid-secure venue with the City Varieties and we’re carrying all that learning through to The Grand and we’re getting that ready to be opened with all the relevant screens and staggered entry times, cleaning and everything else.
“People are really excited about doing something again, so hopefully that will start to pick up over the summer and we can maybe start 2022 with some actual normality.”
The spotlights will shine again for performances at The City Varieties in May, with The Grand reopening in June with Northern Ballet and Swan Lake.
Some early events may well be screenings instead of the huge shows that often come to The Grand, as they are more flexible to move around, depending on how and when social distancing rules are relaxed.
Ms Sanderson added: "We're hoping we can go ahead with everything we’ve got programmed and we’ve had a lot of support from our customers.
"It's been great to see that support come through, people have been really understanding about helping us."
Work is set to start in April and is set to last for just over a year.
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