Armley Interplay Theatre prepares for the return of live performances as lockdown restrictions ease

This coming week marks the long-awaited return of live performances, and the cast and crew at Armley Interplay Theatre are wasting no time in getting back to what they do best.

Sunday, 16th May 2021, 6:00 am
Steve Byrne, artistic director at Armley Interplay Theatre, rehearsing with the actor musicians

It’s been a turbulent time for theatre: closure, opening outside only, postponements and more closure.

Armley Interplay Theatre has had to postpone its latest show, This Land - The Story of Woody Guthrie, numerous times over the course of the year.

But that hasn’t stopped the cast and crew.

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Steve Byrne wants to invite as much as Leeds as possible into the Armley Interplay Theatre building

Rehearsals for the play are now nearing the end and the theatre will this week present its first live in-person play since the start of the pandemic.

The audience capacity might have to be reduced by two thirds, and Covid compliances might have to be adhered to, but it’s happening.

Steve Byrne, artistic director, tells of the buzz at Armley Interplay Theatre as they prepare for what seemed like a lifetime away just a few months ago.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Of course preparing for live theatre again has been interesting.

“There’s learning about all the Covid compliances and there is a bit of trepidation about groups of people coming back into a building, but we’ve tailored our show around this.

“The audience will be in little bubbles and pockets with families and we’ve really reduced our audience so, while safety is paramount, this is really really exciting.

“We can’t wait to open our building and say to people ‘hello, we’re back, and here’s a bit of theatre you can get in to see and it’s all safe’.

“We’ve put this show back about three or four times and that can get frustrating and you can start to forget what you’re actually there to do.

“Now there’s such a buzz around being back and we’ve been reminded that what we do is work together, communicate with people and create stories, and it’s great to be back to doing that after so long.”

The first performance of This Land - The Story of Woody Guthrie is on May 20, with shows running from Wednesday to Sunday until June 5.

It’s based on Woody Guthrie, an American folk singer who died of Huntington’s disease in 1967.

Mr Byrne explains how similarities can be taken from Guthrie to the situation we have all faced over the past year.

He said: “Woody has a great speech where he says he hates a song that makes you feel no good, and it’s along the lines of people feeling like they aren’t worth anything because they are ‘too this’ or ‘too that’ and all of that is the insecurity you have when you can’t work or can’t do the things you want to do.

“That’s like where we have been at, so we took a leap of faith and thought, 'can we do this in time and can we get enough people in'?

“And it’s really taking off now and people have even been knocking on our door asking if they can have one of our Woody Guthrie posters.

“I shouldn’t say it but there clearly are some Guthrie nerds out there.”

The majority of freelance actors and musicians in the play are from Leeds, with one joining from Manchester and one also from Bristol.

Mr Byrne added: “All our actors are relishing in this and it’s important to us to help freelancers.

“In between lockdowns we spent a lot of money on freelance and community artists in and around our area and there was always a feeling of thinking about what we can do and what we should be doing, so we did try to help with the community as much as we could.

“Now, being able to release money for mainly local actors again has been amazing.

“It works two-fold, they bring a spark into our building and shows, and for them, they are back to being at work and being paid for what they are so good at.”

Armley Interplay Theatre would usually tour to venues across the country along with performing to schools as part of its work.

Mr Byrne now wants to bring schools into the theatre to see the show for free in the times when it is not being performed to the general public.

Plans for the future also revolve around theatre for specialist schools, including an underwater story using an installation which will begin being built three weeks after this play finishes.

He added: “We’ve said, let’s invite as much as Leeds as we can into our building and let them know we’re here.

“We want the city to come to Armley and see us.”