Covid-19 cancelled Christmas for millions of theatregoers and imperiled theatres nationally when the panto season was scrapped in 2020. The impact on the arts industry and its 290,000 strong workforce including actor Ross Muir, was catastrophic.
On 20th March 2020, the day schools across the country shut, the Government ordered theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres to close in a bid to help prevent the spread of the disease.
A month earlier, Ross had left his job as a theatre programmer, dedicating himself fulltime to his own successful theatre company, Conn Artists. Four weeks later, the country entered it’s first lockdown. “What a time to leave a secure job to go back into the arts as a freelancer again! Talk about irony, I still don’t have regrets – it makes me laugh.”
WTM postponed, rescheduled or cancelled their remaining programme including the pantomime, Beauty and the Beast, for which Ross had been cast in one of the roles. Producers, actors, technicians, set and costume designers preparing for the biggest annual production in the theatre calendar had to stop working.
Many theatres urged patrons to consider donations in order to help the sector. Some offered online alternatives to help generate revenue, but for Ross, there can be no substitute; “It’s just not the same – theatre cannot translate to Zoom as far as I’m concerned.”
A year later, a lot of venues remain shut. “I worry for the ones that haven’t got any rescue money from the Cultural Recovery Fund. Those regional venues, little trusts and charities, if they don’t get any support they’ll just go under, because they rely on ticket sales alone.”
Financial support is needed elsewhere in the industry; “Conn Artists put in a bid for the second round of the Cultural Recovery Funding, but we didn’t get any. The application programme was heavily geared towards venues and not producers. It’s no good saving the venues if there’s no work to put inside them!”
A lot of theatres didn’t reopen at all last year, because it wasn’t financially viable for them to do so. “But Worthing did. They managed to get a few little shows in. Although there was no panto in 2020, there were a couple of mini christmas shows that I was involved in. We got to do the first one, but of course were shut down on Boxing day.”
Ross can’t wait to get back to rehearsals; “Rehearsing with other actors is such an exciting thing to do. I’ve always enjoyed the rehearsal process, whether it’s panto or a serious play. That discovery process you have with other creative artists is wonderful. What the audience gets to see is the refined version of that process.”
In the meantime, getting out into nature has helped Ross. “I’ve discovered rambling! Going for walks on the Downs – I can’t believe it’s taken a pandemic for me to find the countryside – it’s a revelation in my life! Also, having something to do each day, no matter what it is, occupied me.”
Ross has kept busy rescheduling Conn Artist dates to Spring 2022. The support of good friends and family have been essential during the pandemic. “It’s been a long time, I just hope that the Road Map works.”