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But instead of complaining about their night out plans being ruined, theatregoers have shown overwhelming support by moving to new dates and, in many cases, donating back the price of their tickets to venues rather than claiming refunds.
Mark Da Vanzo, chief executive at the Everyman and Playhouse, says they’ve seen huge understanding from audiences despite having to lose 16 Everyman rock and roll panto performances and around 20 Fantastically Great Women shows at the Playhouse.
“The amazing thing is we’ve had to ring thousands of people over the course of Covid to let them know shows aren’t going ahead and the vast majority have been really understanding; they realise everyone is living with this and we’re just trying to do our best,” he says.
“We’ve literally been going from day to day not knowing if we had enough people to put on a show that day and with this virus you don’t know who it’s going to hit and when – the only thing you do know for certain is when someone tests positive they have to legally isolate regardless of symptoms which can be crippling for a show that’s only running for weeks.
“People do understand that we operate on pretty tight margins and Christmas is one of our times of the year where we make our profit to help keep the theatres going through the year.
“To be hit not only one year, but two years running, really does make things tricky.
“We did what we could to make sure as many people as possible had a chance to see both shows which included offering refunds and some people were generous enough to actually donate their ticket price back to us which was brilliant.
“A lot of audience members’ attitude was ‘we realise you’re in dire straits here and we want to help’ and that’s just been so heart-warming to see.”
The Royal Court has experienced a similar reaction from people booking for its Christmas show, The Scouse Sleeping Beauty.
Two weeks of performances had to be cancelled at the beginning of November, when four cast members, the director and a couple of backstage crew all tested positive for Covid just before opening night.
“We were due to start on November 5, and we had everybody testing every day and understudies covering every role in case we lost one or two people, but we just lost too many to cover so although fortunately they weren’t badly ill we had to stand everybody down.
“Our Christmas show tickets sell like hot cakes and people had booked three or four months in advance, they’d got groups together, and they were really looking forward to coming out, having a meal and seeing a show.
“The box office staff in all venues have been amazing because they’re the ones who have to make the calls and break the bad news, but customers have been incredibly understanding.
“When we rang to tell them about cancellations, nearly all of them said ‘it’s not a problem, we’ll do new dates or take vouchers, hope everyone’s OK’ and quite a lot of them said ‘keep the money’. Everyone just gets it, everyone understands, and to get that from our audience really warmed us through.”
In fact, the Royal Court was able to give disappointed theatregoers a bonus – it pulled together a variety show in about 48hours, offered them that on the same date and rebooked them for a later date Christmas show for free.
The Everyman and Royal Court now have their Christmas shows back on – Scouse Sleeping Beauty is actually extended until Jan 29 – and they’re hoping to make it to the end of the runs with no more cancellations before looking forward to a busy 2022 season.
“If we can deliver the rest of our panto shows we should get to close to 50 performances which I think given the current climate, and the fact that many theatres have lost their Christmas shows completely, is pretty good,” adds Mark.
“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping we can get through the next couple of weeks.
“By taking the hiatus it gave everyone a chance to recover, get well and see through their isolation periods which now means we’ve got a cast who are in good spirits and really want to deliver the show so that’s a real positive.
“We’re just trying to keep everyone safe and well, and protect everybody including our audiences. I think a lot of people in Liverpool associate our rock and roll panto with not just Christmas but a sense of normality and a sense of fun and enjoying life and we wanted to give that back to all the people who’ve supported us over the year.”
Article by Dawn Collinson
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