There is no doubt the arts industry, particularly the performing arts, has had it tough since the pandemic hit. With shows cancelled or postponed, sometimes indefinitely, many companies and theatres have found themselves at a loss.
So, how is the Tasmanian theatre industry faring now? What did it look like before the pandemic? Where is it going in the future? We asked some key Tasmanian theatre stakeholders to find out.
Theatre North program manager Stuart Loone said theatre before the COVID-19 pandemic was "predictable in its vibrancy". However, once the pandemic hit, the industry was turned upside-down.
"The full theatre was empty. Our box office basically was put in reverse - taking tickets away rather than giving them out," he said.
Performance companies pulled their contracts from artists and suppliers, community theatre companies lost their chance to do what they love, and companies supplying lighting and audio, staging equipment, and professional services were impacted severely.
For the Princess Theatre, though the box office was busier than ever dealing with streams of refunds, an income was next to non-existent.
"JobKeeper got us through in tandem with some extra support from the venue owners - the City of Launceston. We found that the state government, particularly Arts Tasmania, was also very responsive and keen to see us through." Mr Loone said.
In the Southern part of the state, the Theatre Royal also suffered from the closure impacts of the pandemic, and chief executive Simon Wellington said it had been a difficult time for many in the sector.
"As a presenting venue, during the lockdowns of 2020 there were fewer work opportunities for our technical, operations, ushers, and bar staff," he said.
"Our priority shifted to communicating with patrons, including processing refunds and moving tickets, and then putting in place measures to keep everyone safe when we could return to the theatre."
Getting back on stage
Both the Princess Theatre and the Earl Arts Centre are now at 100 per cent capacity, but density limits restrict how many can be in the foyer and backstage areas. To cope, the theatre has introduced staggered arrival times and pop-up bars.
"Sadly, it means that a lot of the 'fun stuff' that goes along with the theatre - like drinks after the show, or gatherings in the foyer - have to be tightly regimented which isn't ideal," Mr Loone said.
"Additionally, the logistics of separate entrances and monitoring arrivals adds a financial burden to our operations."
It has not only been the logistical side of things that has created hurdles, but the effects of the pandemic are still being felt and are causing cancellations from stage left to right.
"The start of 2021 was very promising indeed. We saw the booking sheet full of high calibre gigs and the auditorium full of audiences with a strong appetite to be back in the venue," Mr Loone said.
"Postponements kicked in around the end of June and it's been very quiet on the interstate front since then ... however the pleasing thing is that the vast majority of interstate tours have rebooked into 2022."
To put it into statistics, Mr Loone said in 2020 roughly the Princess theatre lost about 160 days of bookings and the Earl lost about 150 days worth of bookings.
In 2021, the bookings have been harder to put into numbers because many of the cancelled shows with Theatre North in 2020 were moved to 2021.
"Roughly, we've lost about 45 days of bookings in the Princess and a handful in the Earl [in 2021]," Mr Loone said.
The Theatre Royal also suffered high cancellation rates in 2020, with 118 shows biting the bullet.
2021 has seen the company take less of a hit so far, with only 23 postponed or cancelled productions. However, many of those performances have new dates in 2022.
"While it is a shame to have so many interstate shows unable to come to Hobart, Theatre Royal is fortunate to have some great Tasmanian productions this year," Mr Wellington said.
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Those shows include The Rocky Horror Show, The Old Man & The Old Moon, A Not So Traditional Story, Anything Goes, DRILL, Bawdy Pantos, Croon, and Uni Revue - several of which have also come to the North of the state.
Mr Wellington said audiences were keen to be back at the theatre, especially since capacity restrictions eased in June.
"Everyone has been really patient and flexible with shows and dates moving around, which we continue to deal with. The Theatre Royal is lucky to have a higher number of local Tasmanian productions on our stages at the moment, which aren't affected by interstate restrictions and audiences are flocking to," he said.
Encore for theatre
Though a future in the world of the pandemic is ever-changing, one thing is for sure: Tasmanians have recognised how special the world of live performance is and they have missed it.
"We think the future looks bright, surprisingly," Mr Loone said.
"The community sector is flourishing and the professional sector, as ever, looks outward, is collaborative, and is generating work of real calibre. It feels like we're leaning into the concept of becoming a "making" state - rather than just ripping out the classics."
The Theatre Royal is also excited for the future, with the theatre opening up the Hedberg performing arts centre only last year.
"The newly built Studio Theatre offers the opportunity to present a more diverse program. We also now have a home for smaller-scale work that requires a more intimate exchange with audiences," Mr Wellington said.
Both theatres were excited to work with more local artists after strengthening those relationships during the pandemic.
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