What a difference a year makes. We started 2020 with a visit to Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre with the latest performance in our extensive tour of The Door, then followed that up with a dinner theatre evening based on Tony Earnshaw’s novel Blessed Assurance (complete with band), and were on the point of a premiere of Maria McAteer’s On a Wicklow Hill when we went into lockdown.

The story so far…

The decision to replace the premiere of On a Wicklow Hill with a reading of the play on Zoom set us on a path which has been both challenging and rewarding. It’s interesting to look back and remind ourselves of the way our Zoom offering has developed. 

Our second online outing was a repeat of our dinner theatre evening Blessed Assurance, with some adjustments to the music – of course this time our audience members had to provide their own dinner. We then moved on to 2 plays by Brendan Murray: Big Baby, which involved music, a giant baby and multiple characters, followed by Collywobbles with its nostalgic music hall numbers and undertones of sinister menace. 

By this stage our Zoom snowball was really rolling. We followed up with Kelvin Segger’s one-man play Diary of a Madman. Director Willie Elliott took the opportunity to experiment with movement and choreography, resulting in a truly dynamic staging of one man’s descent into madness. Diary proved a huge success and we ended up staging it 4 times, performing the piece twice for our ever-growing Zoom community, and also appearing online as part of the Saltaire and Buxton festivals, for which we received great audiences and rave reviews.

With Tony Earnshaw’s Little Brother we added another camera. And due to lockdown restrictions, we needed a mixed cast of 2 in one place with a third on Zoom – as well as a camera operator and 2 directors.

Our next online outing, The Space Within, proved the most challenging yet, with 7 different new plays on Zoom by 7 different writers. Each play had different approaches and technical challenges – including at one point Artistic Director Darren having a mobile phone taped to his forehead for a ‘point of view’ shot!

In January 2021 we pushed the Zoom boundaries even further. A Darker Night featured a silent movie from Brendan Murray, a traditional ghost story from Stephen Thompson, and a sinister character returning to haunt a writer from Associate Artist Maria McAteer.

In the process of developing our Zoom offering, we’ve gathered a committed audience and an enthusiastic community. And though we’ve been unable to pay proper rates, we have been able to give cast and crew ‘thank you’ payments through the donations to our JustGiving page. But JustGiving can be a little clunky for this purpose – plus we feel it’s time to move our online efforts on to a better basis.

Taking the next steps…

So when you book our next show – a Valentine’s extravaganza – you’ll find that we’ve made 2 changes. First, your booking will be through the site TicketSource. Plus, we’re introducing a basic charge of £5 plus a donation option.

We want to keep the shows coming – not only for you our audience, but also so our writers and actors can keep practising their craft, and so the company can keep on creating during these tricky times.

To that end, we’re opting for a basic charge – but one low enough that as many of you as possible can come to the performances. And we’re opting for donation options, so those who feel able to generously pay more can do just that.

We hope the result is a ticketing and pricing system that not only reflects our previous ‘pay what you can… pay what you feel’ approach, but also fosters an equal and balanced way of ensuring our sustainability.

Another step in our development, another sign that we have been able to turn the current crisis into a creative opportunity.

The other new development, as we continue to build sustainability into the company, is the introduction of our Cheeky Angels scheme. This gives you – our friends and supporters – the opportunity to become more closely involved, to help us generate more shows, and to get some exclusive benefits in return.

So if you’re already part of our community, thank you – and keep coming with us on our path of development. If you’re not yet involved, why not come along to our Valentine’s Day special – an early-evening exploration of the day from different angles – and see for yourself.