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Live Theatre - after the interval - an update from Chief Executive, Jim Beirne

It’s three months since our doors at Live Theatre closed. Covid-19 put the brakes on our Elevator Festival and paused what promised to be a superb season including new commissions Children of the Night and the double bill of Braids and Cheer Up Slug, plus a great programme of visiting theatre shows and our Live Youth Theatre and Live Tales sessions.

Covid-19 has changed our lives and the impact on the cultural and theatre sector has been and will continue to be significant and challenging. We are confident however with the support of our friends, stakeholders, partners, funders and fantastic audiences we can and will weather the storm

Back in March we made the necessary decision to take advantage of the UK Government supported Furlough scheme to safeguard jobs and the future of Live Theatre.

During this period, we have taken the time to reflect on our creative and learning programmes and practices.

As the only new writing theatre outside of London in England, Live Theatre is committed to our home region and has always been dedicated to promoting and championing lesser heard and diverse voices. Going forward we will focus on investing in our development programmes, providing foundations and stepping stones for artists and freelancers in the creative sector to enable them to flourish and to ensure a future for theatre, and in particular new writing, in the region.

Now with the easing of lockdown across the UK, I wanted to bring you an update on what our hopes are on the gradual reopening of Live Theatre and the re-starting of theatre productions, and the different ways in which we plan to share with you our creative commissions.

We made an early decision to continue to invest in artists and support to the sector during this difficult period. Our Creative Opportunities open call for emerging and early theatre artists was already live in March and we extended the closing dates through to May.

Creativity certainly didn’t seem to be stifled by the enforced lockdown as we were delighted and overwhelmed to receive an incredible 746 submissions in total. These were: 301 submissions for our short play competition, 10 Call Home; 358 Open Script Submissions for full-length new plays; and 87 applications for Live Theatre Bursaries of £2000 each towards new plays. Live Theatre’s Creative Programme team are in the process of reading through the many scripts submitted and considering the bursary applications.

The team are very excited and looking forward to start working on the selected scripts, award the bursaries and take the productions forward in new and innovative ways. The detail and planning is still taking shape but we hope to have some of the team back in the building from late August to open a new chapter and get theatre live again.

With social distancing and other control measures required for rehearsals, pre-production and the staging of live performances, there are some challenges to overcome.

The safety of our staff, creative partners and audiences is paramount so we will be developing and presenting projects in new and different ways, utilising digital platforms and channels in the first instance. This is likely to include recording and sharing content in audio format, presenting readings, videoing closed house productions and live streaming shows.

When we are in a position to welcome audiences back into our theatre we will take into account all necessary government guidance, including enhanced hygiene interventions and additional safety precautions, to ensure it remains a brilliant experience for all of our audience - as there really is nothing like a live show at Live Theatre.

We hope to announce more detailed plans in August and look forward to sharing these with you very soon.

In the meantime, we will be undertaking research to gather the views of audiences, Friends, volunteers, participants and creative partners to understand how we can be relevant and accessible to our community going forward. It’s vital that we get a clear picture of how our audiences and the Live Theatre community feel about engaging with theatre and our activities in future and what we can do to support them and make everyone feel safe and welcome in our spaces.

We have been heartened by the very generous individual donations and goodwill for Live Theatre throughout this crisis with many of our customers choosing to donate the costs of their tickets for cancelled shows. Covid-19 has placed Live Theatre and many other arts venues in very precarious financial positions so the ongoing support of our audiences and friends is important.

We look forward to sharing with you, new, exciting, engaging and diverse stories and ultimately welcoming you back to Live Theatre as soon as we can.

We are Investing now to ensure the future for theatre in the North East. Thank you.


Jim Beirne MBE

CEO Live Theatre

  • Arts Council England
  • Community Foundation
  • European Regional Development Fund


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