While theatres in Scotland can open without social distancing from August 9, Aberdeen Arts Centre has decided to err on the side of caution and plans to keep some safety measures in place till October.
The popular King Street venue was the first theatre to reopen in the north-east – families welcomed the return of live theatre with Artie’s Singing Kettle on May 29 after creating special socially-distanced seating in “pods”.
Those safety measures will stay in place for the time for the time being, said Stephanie Walls, Aberdeen Arts Centre manager.
“The first performance was socially distanced because we didn’t know how long social distancing would go on.
“We worked out that for our business model and for our building, we were able to adapt our auditorium into socially distanced pods so that people could still come and enjoy a night out.
“So we’ve been able to be open for the last three months or so and it’s it’s been going really well.”
Aberdeen Arts Centre adopts cautious and safe approach
Stephanie decided to keep selling tickets for the socially distanced pods for a number of reasons.
She explained: “Theatre, even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, tends to wind down anyway in August because of the Edinburgh Fringe. So the big programming doesn’t tend to happen anyway.
“Our calendar was not as busy as it would usually be, so we’ve decided to put on some smaller-scale stuff that would not need to be at full capacity.
“We might bring it (the distance) down from two meters to one meter – just to get a few more people in and try different layouts.
“I think, listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement where it was very much ‘look, you don’t have to socially distance, but it might be a good idea if you’d like to keep a bit of distance’, that anything I can do to make my audiences feel as comfortable as possible… I’m in a position to do that, so I think it is my personal and professional duty to try and do that as long as I can.”
Plan to remove all social distancing measures in October
However, Stephanie is hopeful they’ll feel comfortable removing all social distancing measures for their Halloween panto production – Harry Panto.
She said: “That is sort of what we’re thinking and if it seems suitable and sensible and is still well within restrictions, we will go for non socially distance during Harry Panto and hopefully, hit the ground running going forward and see how we get on, but for now, we’re just gonna take it slowly.”
Stephanie was delighted that everyone who came through the Arts Centre doors in the last three months was “just absolutely thrilled” to be back in the theatre.
“I think there are other people that are still – rightly so – a little bit wary about it and would rather see a lot more online provision going forwards.
Keeping everybody safe and at ease
“We had a good mixture of different audiences coming through the door. We’ve had everyone from family audiences through to older audiences that came to see things like Easy Money, all the way through to this last Saturday (July 31) when we had the TEDx Aberdeen event, which was a more business corporate environment.
“They were just absolutely thrilled to be back out networking and you know, they just went completely back to normal and they were still one meter apart.”
Stephanie said she just wanted to make sure everyone felt as safe and comfortable as possible.
She said: “The overarching thing that we have had is how safe everybody felt. How even if they were nervous before they decided to come along, that the second they were through the door, saw the one way systems, saw the social distancing and things like fogging going on, all of their fears went away, and they just felt really comfortable and at ease.”
Doric festival and supporting local creatives
In addition to the Halloween panto and the venue’s dazzling Christmas extravaganza – Sleeping Beauty – Aberdeen Arts Centre will stage a number of other shows.
Stephanie said: “We’ve just had actors in the building in person auditioning to do a few pieces of new writing.
“Those are little new writing nights where people can explore works by new playwrights, or sometimes it’s playwrights that you might have heard of, but they’re trying out new material.
“We’re also looking to do a Doric festival, which we’re still trying to work out, but we auditioned some fabulous story characters on Monday. We’ve got some great scripts from a local writers group.”
So while Aberdeen Arts Centre isn’t currently planning to stage big amateur musicals, Stephanie said the King Street venue is taking a moment to “give back to our creative community”.
“We want to give them some paid work so that they can come in and pay some bills, have a nice time,” said Stephanie.
“And the audiences in Aberdeen can experience something a little bit different to the usual fare.”
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