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Darkened Arnaud’s Curtains Will Rise Again to Light Up Our Lives

Published on: 7 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 15 May, 2020

Joanna Read

By Joanna Read

director & chief executive of the Yvonne Arnaud

The Yvonne Arnaud went dark on March 16 at about 6.20pm.

It had been a confusing and chaotic afternoon.  At 5pm, the country was told not to go to theatres, cinemas, bars or restaurants and by 6.10pm our industry body confirmed all theatres must close now.

Members of the company of Lady Chatterley’s Lover were still warming up on stage as I and my front-of-house manager stood in the foyer turning that night’s audience away. They were gracious, accepting and a few generously tried to stay to have a drink before heading home, till we reluctantly pointed out we were not allowed to serve them because the bar also had to close.

The closure was a shock but not a surprise. Over the week before, we had become increasingly anxious for our audience and our staff and although  theatre folk will always tell you “the show must go on”, it’s not a maxim I’ve ever adhered to when lives and livelihoods are at risk.

The ghost light maintaining the faith on the stage at the Yvonne Arnaud

A dark theatre is an odd place. Shorn of its audience and its work the building has no purpose. We keep one ghost light on, to ward away the spirits and keep peace with old theatrical superstitions, but otherwise we are dark.

Closure at any point for a theatre so reliant upon box-office income for its survival, is critical. Closure with no reopen date in sight is undiscovered territory for us, but one from which we hope to return.

“We’ll be back soon!” Guildford’s theatregoers will hope so. Photo Mark Insoll

In the gap, we work on panto, develop a podcast, post social media and replan our tour of Sheila’s Island, our own production due to tour in May. I’m programming an autumn and spring season that I hope will make it to the stage, calling other producers like me, all working out of front rooms and bedrooms on cranky mobile reception. We are dark but we are not quiet.

Theatre is socialising, civilising, enriching and entertaining. It brings communities together to celebrate, to tell stories and to heal the pain.

There have been overwhelming moments in the weeks. The kindness of our audiences who have donated to the theatre rather than accept a refund. The Friends who have emailed to say they are spending all their gift vouchers on the autumn season. The strangers who have joined our Friends in the hope we will open again so we might get to know them better.

We’ve been able to give back a little too. Next year’s panto tickets go to the Royal Surrey for when the NHS will need cheering up, and cleaning kits to GBC, connecting staff with volunteer requests.

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Millmead. Photo Mark Insoll

More than ever theatre will be essential when the time comes for us to reopen. Theatre is socialising, civilising, enriching and entertaining. It brings communities together to celebrate, to tell stories and to heal the pain.

When we are through this we will need to celebrate and remember together and the Arnaud intends to be here for Guildford. Whether you come to see a show, join a workshop, have a coffee in our café or bring your children to youth theatre we hope to welcome you back, make you laugh, make you smile and come together.

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