Attracting people back to the stage 'could take time', warns theatre boss

Queen Mother Theatre in Hitchin

Queen Mother Theatre in Hitchin - Credit: Supplied by Elliott Bunker

Hitchin theatre boss Rory Reynolds has warned that attracting people back to the stage in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic could take time. 

The town's Queen Mother Theatre is well-known for its programme of amateur theatrical productions, and when it was allowed to re-open to limited audiences in May, performances were sold out. 

But despite the eager return of audiences, artistic director Rory Reynolds says those wishing to tread the boards have been more ‘tentative’ to come back together. 

As a result, he says choices of productions at the theatre, off Walsworth Road, are currently limited to those with a maximum cast size of just six actors. 

He told a meeting of North Herts District Council’s cabinet panel on community engagement and cooperative development that there would be a need for reassurance if performers were to return. 

“I think trying to bring people back in is going to be a little bit of a slow process,” he said. 

"I think you have to reassure people they are going to be absolutely fine and do it tentatively, perhaps not rush back to it.” 

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Mr Reynolds – who also works in mental health – likened the return to theatres to the reopening of schools, as it took time to build confidence that students could return to school and all would be well. 

He said: “It's not surprising. The government has spent the last year telling us not to mix with anybody and to keep away from everyone. So people do absorb that message. 

“So, I think we are going to have to get things going fairly slowly and not be too disappointed if initially people don’t come along and put themselves forward. It's all about participation.” 

Meanwhile cabinet panel chair Cllr Judi Billing suggested to the meeting that this ‘tentativeness’ may be a health issue in itself. 

“I think the other interesting thing about people’s tentativeness about going back is a mental health issue, as much as a fear of illness issue,” she said. 

She added that reluctance to be around lots of people may be a ‘social thing’ rather than a medical fear of catching the virus. 

The remarks were made as part of a discussion on ‘how arts providers, and their audiences, plan to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and how to thrive in the new world’. 

Also present to take part in the discussion were representative from a number of Arts groups including Digswell Arts Trust, Hitchin Folk Club, Herts Visual Arts, Baldock Arts and Heritage Centre, Creative Royston, Royston Arts Society and Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation – as well as Letchworth Eagles and Hitchin Town FC. 

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