17 April 2020
As people who know and love the theatre, it felt important to me to write to you at this time, and to share with you my experience of the last few weeks.
A month ago I sat in our rehearsal room with the Summer Season creative team and TBTL staff, as the directors and designers shared their model box designs and vision for the productions. I was about to set off to Ludlow to watch the final rehearsal of One Side Lies the Sea,our co-production with rural touring company, Pentabus. Our family musical Malory Towers was in its final week of rehearsals and we were preparing the building for the NT Connections Festival which would have seen hundreds of young people performing on our stages. It should have been one of those days where I'd normally be pinching myself – almost a year since the announcement of my new role, and I'm surrounded by the most dedicated and inspiring theatre-makers, starting to see how all our efforts were coming together. But there was a distinct undercurrent of something unfamiliar - I think we were all starting to fear the worst, whilst hoping for the best. Less than a week later we'd closed the building to the public. With speed and remarkable good humour, our staff pulled together to vacate the building and respond to the news which changed our circumstances on what felt like an hourly basis.
Since the chaos of that week, we've all set ourselves up at home for an unknown period of time in self-isolation. Most of our staff have been furloughed under the government's job retention scheme, whilst a handful of us continue to work from home, suddenly finding ourselves in a very different job, but with a very clear aim. Our usually buzzing, lively theatre building may be dark, but it sits by Derwentwater in anticipation, patiently awaiting for our return.
Now the dust has somewhat settled, I wanted to take the opportunity to say thank you on behalf of all of us. Thank you for the messages of support. Thank you to everyone who has donated their tickets. Thank you for every "you'll be back!”. It has meant so much, especially when we know that you are all being affected by this in so many ways.
And I want to assure you that we will indeed be back. We don't know when, we don't know how yet, but what we do know is that when we come back, the world will be different, we will all be different, and Theatre by the Lake will need to adapt and to help shape this new world.
In this we find an opportunity. An opportunity to take our foot of the pedal, to take a moment to pause and reflect. Without the overwhelming demands of the day to day, we can concentrate on thinking forwards, on making new friends, and dreaming up new programmes of work. I'll take the opportunity to reach out to every group who makes TBTL what it is today; our volunteers, our participants, the Friends of TBTL and supporters, our audiences, our Ambassadors, the community groups and organisations who use our theatre spaces, and we'll form new relationships too.
I am so grateful to all the amazing people who are saving lives and helping their communities during this time. I am incredibly fortunate in that I am well, and I can enjoy daily walks around the countryside around Wigton, and I can video call my loved ones. But I do miss my family and friends. And I miss theatre! I love theatre because it is by its nature collaborative - it needs people to work together closely as a team, and it needs audiences and performers to share space, to share a live experience. Great theatre allows us to explore, reflect on and celebrate what it means to be human. Great art survives crises, transcends boundaries, and it heals people. People will always need to come together, and they'll always need the arts.
Theatre by the Lake will play its part in the healing of our community. I want you to know that we'll throw all we have into making sure this theatre is there for our community on the other side of this pandemic. The building will be buzzing and lively again, and our impact will be felt even more deeply across Cumbria.
Shortly after our closure I had to email the 40 individuals who were due to make our Summer Season with us; the actors who were preparing to move to Keswick for seven months, the designers who had just presented their final designs in miniature model-box form, sound designers, lighting designers, movement directors, the four playwrights who were excited to see their plays brought to life for the first time, and of course my fellow directors who I'd worked so closely with to create the season in rep. It was news I dreaded giving, necessary as it was.
I want to leave you with the reply I received from Mark Melville, a sound designer and composer who was due to work on the season and has previously created beautiful music for a number of TBTL shows, from Swallows and Amazons to Guards at the Taj.
It is one of many examples of generosity, positivity and support I have received from others, at a time when everyone is struggling. Mark closes his message with the final few lines of Wilt, the stunning new play by Kieran Knowles, the first show I was to direct as Artistic Director, which I should be in rehearsals for at the moment. I hope it provides some inspiration for you as it has me.
We look forward to seeing you when we open our doors. In the meantime, we'll continue to bring people together to be creative and to make great art, even if it is remotely! Keep an eye on our social media channels and our e-newsletters for our news and updates.
With love and best wishes, and thinking of you all and your loved ones; stay safe and well,