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The Unity went into lockdown in March and social distancing restrictions mean it’s not yet able to put on a programme of productions.
So until live performances can return next year, it will open as a community hub, supporting local artists, communities, businesses and students.
“We believe theatre is just as much about the creative process and connecting with artists and the community as it is about someone buying a ticket and watching a show,” explains business development manager Rachael Welsh.
“That’s why from now until December artists can hire our space to develop ideas they may have had in lockdown and get back to making work in a financially risk-free way.”
The Unity has two theatres – a 150-seater main house and a 100-seater upstairs, plus a bar which doubles as an event space.
They are now available free to artists, and on a pay-what-you-can basis to community organisations and local businesses looking for somewhere to meet. Auditorium seating gives plenty of space to distance and new safety measures have been introduced including hand sanitiser stations, temperature checks, track and trace and a one-way system.
“We’re fully accessible and we’ve introduced an app to help anyone who relies on lipreading which can obviously be more difficult with visors,” says Rachael.
“Masks need to be worn in public areas unless people are exempt but not once groups are in their spaces, we’ve gridded the theatre floor in one-metre squares and seats are mapped out with one-metre stickers so it’s easy to distance. We’re also trying to only take full-day bookings so we can do a deep clean every morning.”
Although the Unity has been busy online during lockdown, there’s nothing quite like opening the doors again.
“The nature of the word Unity is bringing people together and you really get that vibe when you come into our theatre,” says Rachael. “While we can’t put performances on we might as well hand the Unity back to the city and let them do what they want with it.”
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