A year since being forced to close due to the Covid pandemic, one of the few sectors in Wales which has not been allowed to reopen is today (March 16) highlighting how much they miss the general public and those who work with them. On March 16, 2020 theatres and entertainment venues across Wales were forced to close to the public, a week before the UK-wide Covid lockdown.
Although lockdown measures have been eased for short periods of time for other sectors, these Welsh venues have not been able to reopen. One year on, Creu Cymru, the development agency for theatres and art centres in Wales, has launched the #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign to highlight how much they miss the audience, the performers, and the staff.
Despite venues being closed to the general public, they have not been empty during this challenging period for the arts. Physical audience may not have been allowed in, but for many the show has gone on, supporting the local community during the Covid pandemic and moving performances and outreach activity online to reach new audiences.
Theatres have been used as Covid Mass Vaccination Centres, Pantomimes delivered online, shows “staged” and recorded for care home residents, as well as live performance streamed online reaching audiences near and far. Some theatre staff have also been supporting the Covid effort, delivering free school meals, working with the Track and Trace teams and volunteering in their communities. The technical team at Venue Cymru were redeployed to work on ITV’s “I’m a Celebrity” which was filmed at nearby Gwrych Castle.
The #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign is being supported by celebrities such as Callum Scott Howells, who recently played one of the key parts as Colin in Channel 4’s “It’s a Sin”. In a social media post supporting RCT Theatres, Callum Howells said “I am so proud of our local theatres, RCT Theatres, in particular the Park and Dare. I feel like that is where my heart belongs. And over this past year, we haven’t had the opportunity to go to see amazing productions there, and how gutting is that there will have been a year in our lives when we couldn’t go to the Park and Dare. All I can say is #WeMissYou but we are going to be back soon, and we are going to be back stronger than ever”.
Also, as part of the #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign theatres and arts centres across Wales will be lit up in the colours of the rainbow on March 16 as a sign of hope, as they continue their preparations to open the doors to the public as soon as they are allowed to do so. A rainbow montage image of locations lit up will be shared on the day.
One year on, Creu Cymru Director Louise Miles-Payne said:
“We wanted to unite theatres across Wales and what better way to do that than with a rainbow. It is a symbol that we are still here and waiting for the return of our audiences, staff, and performers.
Theatres and arts centres play a vital role in the arts economy in Wales. From small studios to big-budget stages, theatre and the performing arts are part of the fabric of Welsh life. Towns, villages and cities the breadth of Wales, have and use theatres for more than seeing a show – they are spaces for many different groups in the community to come together to learn, socialise and create. Theatres are often the heartbeat of the local community. They bring people together to laugh, cry, rejoice and learn. They have continued to do this during this uncertain time.”
“We’ve been working closely with Welsh Government Officials and the Deputy Minister on the safe reopening of our theatres. We hope that this will be allowed soon when the situation improves”.
Venue Cymru in Llandudno and Ffwrnes Theatre, Llanelli have played a high-profile part in the Covid pandemic response. Both locations have been used as Mass Vaccination Centres. Almost 50,000 people have been vaccinated at Ysbyty Enfys, Llandudno based at Venue Cymru.
Sarah Ecob, Head of Economy and Culture for Conwy County Borough Council said “Venue Cymru was transformed into Ysbyty Enfys in April 2020. It is now central to the local vaccination programme, vaccinating almost 50,000 residents. But although our building is supporting NHS Wales, we have still been exceedingly busy reaching new audiences, with much of our work now delivered digitally. Venue Cymru’s annual take pART event will be delivered digitally throughout March and April. Canu Conwy, Venue Cymru’s staff choir, teamed up with Welsh National Opera and staff from NHS Wales to record their version of A Bridge Over Troubled Waters. The video has been viewed more than 3.5m times on Youtube. We also embraced the new location for “I’m a Celebrity” at Gwrych castle. Our technical crew were sourced by ITV to assist with the production. At the same time, Venue Cymru arranged a community project in the town which included an arts installation with Small World Theatre featuring giant bugs on buildings and haunted lady ghosts, and a photography exhibition entitled ‘Celebrity Town’ – featuring many community figures”.
For Theatr Felin-fach the past 12 months have been exceedingly busy. Dwynwen Lloyd Llywelyn, Head of Theatr Felin-fach said “The name Felin-fach in Welsh, describes a little mill – but despite being little, the energy and creativity has been enormous. We established a digital platform for our work called Dychmygus / Imagine, which has hosted a variety of projects including a digital version of our famous Welsh language pantomime. We also established a multi-partner festival and we even gave Santa and Mrs Santa a hand to bring a message to all the children of Ceredigion”
National Dance Company Wales were part of the first live-streamed ballet class in conjunction with the BBC. Their Dance for Parkinson’s classes went online and they also produced 8 short films with Literature Wales. In her #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat social media post, Elena Sgarbi, a dancer with National Dance Company Wales said “What I miss the most about performing on stage is that moment before the curtain opens, and we hear the audience coming in and the excitement of the dancers. I really miss that”.
For performers, the last year has been challenging and everyone is looking forward to when theatres and art centres can reopen. Supporting Theatr Felinfach in the #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign, Grand Slam and Rownd a Rownd actor, and musician, Dewi Pws said “What I miss about the theatre are Welsh language plays, live bands, the warmth of the audience, laughing, crying but most of all the thing I miss is the BAR”.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre has seen various productions moving online but they are also preparing for when they can reopen. Dafydd Rhys, Director of Aberystwyth Arts Centre said: ‘We’ve been very busy over the last year, moving many of our creative learning classes onto virtual platforms to make sure they could continue, particularly classes for our Dance School pupils and other activity for young people. We have run online events with the support of the AM platform and Culture Colony Vision, streaming live from the theatre stage, which has been a steep learning curve but also a really positive experience. It was also important to give visual artists an opportunity to respond to the pandemic, and an Open Call for ‘Oriel Lockdown’ has resulted in over 1000 entries – we will be showing every one of them once we are able to reopen.”
Audience members from the Welfare in Ystradgynlais have been in touch saying how much they miss the centre. “Can’t wait for your doors to be properly open again. You’re such an important part of our community” And “Looking forward to enjoying events at The Welfare again soon. Thank you for all that you do for the community” are two quotes that will be used as part of the #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat social media campaign on March 16.
Theatres and art centres across Wales have been exceedingly busy and the examples of activities are vast and impressive:
- National Dance Company Wales – first live streamed ballet class; dance for Parkinson’s sessions moved online; online ballet performances from dancers’ homes.
- SPAN, Pembrokeshire – Theatr Soffa created for live music performances, community plays, singing workshops; Cor Pawb Sea Shanty created.
- Blackwood Miner’s Institute – staff delivering free school meals, working on Track and Trace and local food banks; DIY Panto kits issued.
- Venue Cymru, Llandudno – being used as a Mass Vaccination Centre; recording of “Bridge over Troubled Waters” by Venue Cymru staff and WNO has had 3.5 million views.
- Theatr Felinfach – created online platform Dychmygus/Imagine; Hosted Gwyl yr Enfys; Annual Panto moved online; Video messages from Sion and Mrs Corn.
- RCT Theatres – online reach of 350,00; offered paid work to 100 freelance artists; staff being dog walking and working for Track and Trace.
- Aberystwyth Art Centre – received over 1,000 entries for Oriel Lockdown for when they reopen; Covid testing centre for Aberystwyth University Students; streaming live performances.
- Theatr Sir Gâr– Ffwrnes Theatre being used as a Mass Vaccination Centre; concerts recorded at Christmas and St David’s day for care home residents; Lyric Theatre being used by Sky who are filming in the area.
- Torch theatre – Made face shields for key workers; weekly singalong reaching 45,000 people.
- The Welfare, Ystradgynlais – Hub for Welsh Blood service; Covid testing centre and local vaccination clinic; Christmas activity pack for local families; Developed a co-production with Deaf and Fabulous Productions, Flossy and Boo and Y Consortiwm Cymraeg.
- Sherman Theatre, Cardiff – Open Platform showcases for Black and LGBTQIA+ artists; free workshops for freelancers to develop new skills; Students from The College Merthyr Tydfil created and intergenerational audio drama from real life stories told by the residents on a care home.
- Congress Theatre, Cwmbran – filmed a professional panto to be screened over Easter; 53 different shows; Reach of 325,000.