I asked my mum if she could find a picture of me at a panto’ as a child. In this photo I’m apparently on my way to see Dick Whittington.
One of my most vivid, and very earliest memories, is this panto’. Being utterly terrified from my seat in the stalls as King Rat entered directly into the auditorium at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, not far from our seats near the aisle. I can remember everything about it. The green lighting, the smell of the haze - and the terror. I watched the remainder of the show from the floor, peering over the seat in front and ready to go into hiding at the mere suggestion of a boo.
There will be many of you who have similar memories and that’s why postponing this year’s production of Cinderella has weighed so heavily on my shoulders.
It is though, unfortunately, now, the right thing to do.
If you have tickets for this year's panto we'll be in touch directly with all bookers next week and tickets for the new dates in 2021/2022 will also go on sale next week too.
Many members of the public have been in touch with me directly with questions and ideas and so I wanted to use this blog post to explain in a little more detail why this decision has been made.
Panto’ brings entire families to Eden Court. One of the aspects that makes panto’ so special is the interaction between audiences and performers – the boos, the cheers, dads up on stage being laughed at. All of this (especially the booing) just isn’t possible when we still need to socialy distance and wear face coverings.
Current guidance states that if we are a contact of someone who has tested positive to COVID-19 we have to self-isolate and book a test. Imagine a scenario where, despite huge precaution, a member of our performing company, musician or backstage crew member tested positive. The entire performing and stage company would have to isolate, perhaps for up to 14 days. In a 14-day window we could have 24 shows with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of ticket sales. Currently theatre productions cannot get insurance for COVID-19 associated losses meaning all of the ticket income associated with theses 24 shows would need refunding and this would have a bigger financial impact on Eden Court than if we postpone the show now
Over the last couple of days, I have spoken to many journalists about the impact of this decision and they can be broadly divided into three main categories:
THE LOCAL ECONOMY
We know that pantomime at Eden Court is a huge driver for the local economy. Last year was our most successful panto’ ever bringing over 36,000 people to the theatre. We also know that over 50% of this audience lived outside the city of Inverness and across the wider Highlands and the north of Scotland. We know that the annual family tradition of coming to see our panto’ brings folks from every corner of the region and more than one family has told me they come in every year “to see panto’, do a big Markies shop and then head back home for the festive season”. We know these trips result in bed-nights in hotels, guest houses and B&Bs, tables in restaurants and spending in shops. We know then that the impact of this decision will be felt across the city.
OUR WONDERFUL COMPANY & CREATIVE TEAM
Many of you will feel like Steven Wren, our wonderful dame, and Ross Allan, our brilliant comic are old friends. They are certainly that to all of us at Eden Court. Steven not only performs in the show but also directs and co-writes the script. For Steven, and for Ross, and indeed for the majority of all the performers in the show, panto’ is the main source of their annual income.
In addition to Steven and Ross three other long-standing Eden Court panto’ family members need to be recognised here. Our exceptional choreographer, Claire Darcy, who also performs in the show, Will Marshall our musical director who works magic in rehearsal and then in the orchestra pit and Marina Bain, our wonderful Chaperone to the three teams of children who appear in the show alongside the adult performers.
THE IMPACT ON EDEN COURT
Approximately one third of our annual box office profit comes from the 52 shows in those few weeks at Christmas. In addition to the ticket income we’ll obviously not be serving the sweets, snacks, drinks and selling the wands, tiaras and swords. That income too is critical to the business. We estimate our losses to be in the region of £350,000 as a result of this decision. That's a huge hit in what has already been a financially devastating year for Eden Court.
I appreciate these times are very difficult for everyone but if you are able to make a donation to help us steer this ship through the storm, I’d be incredibly grateful.
If you can’t donate but still would like to help, the best way to do this would be to visit us when we hopefully re-open in a few weeks’ time.
Initially it will be for a café and bar service, and for cinema, with the hope that some live performance, with social distancing, will be on our stages by Christmas. The live performance we do stage will be smaller in scale, and therefore limiting our financial risks, and I hope eclectic in taste so that there is something for everyone. When we announce our re-opening, and our interim artistic programme, the best way you could support Eden Court is to come and see a film, a show, or have a coffee.
We are in the business of bringing people together and we have so missed doing that. We know that the survival of Eden Court can only be achieved collectively by myself, my team, our supporters and most importantly all of you, who know the magic that goes on inside these walls, and who make us who we are.
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