On the one-year anniversary since Leeds Heritage Theatres’ three venues were forced to close their doors because of the pandemic, the company announces an exciting programme of new shows and screenings, and looks back on its most challenging year to date.
Both Leeds Grand Theatre and City Varieties Music Hall hope to raise their curtains and welcome audiences back from May 2021 – as highlighted in the government’s roadmap as being safe to open with Covid-safety measures in place (plus any new rules). It is hoped that by Monday 21 June, the theatres will be able to operate as ‘close to normal as possible’. Hyde Park Picture House remains closed as work begins on the much-anticipated Picture House Project - a major development that will see the cinema undergo essential conservation work, alongside the creation of new, accessible facilities, sister venues,
Chris Blythe, CEO said; “Whilst programming continues to be a challenge and our reopening plans remain in the hands of the government and the four key ‘tests’ that must be met before easing the societal pressures of lockdown, we are positively working towards mid-May, when we will do everything in our power to raise the curtains, raise the roofs and raise the mood of the people of Leeds and wider region.
“It is no exaggeration to say that our industry has suffered exponentially because of Covid-19 - as arts and culture venues across the country have tried and failed to recover from the impact - but It has never been more important for this sector to thrive, as people reach out to theatres, cinemas, music venues etc as spaces to escape their day-to-day pressures. Our audiences want to be entertained.”
Resident company, Northern Ballet, will launch The Grand’s new season with David Nixon’s reimagining of the classic Swan Lake - they will follow this in November with Merlin, originally set to run over Christmas 2020 as part of their 50th year anniversary celebrations. Fellow residents, Opera North, will also return in the autumn with a season of work yet to be announced. And whilst some of the blockbuster musicals from this year, including The Book of Mormon and Les Misérables, have had to be moved to 2022, West End hits SIX and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will run alongside newly announced Priscilla Queen of the Desert and My Best Friend’s Wedding (starring Alexandre Burke) to name a few. The full listing can be found at www.leedsheritatheatres.com.
At The Varieties, the usual stellar line-up of live comedy, music and variety will run alongside an exciting new film programme presented in collaboration with the Picture House as part of its On The Road line-up.
Collectively, Leeds Heritage Theatres’ venues have been open for over 400 years, contributing immeasurably to Leeds’ (and the wider regions) cultural landscape. Closure on March 16 2020 saw the company furlough most of its staff and lose 98% of its earned income. It is largely thanks to prudent fiscal planning to build reserves, plus financial support from the government and Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund and job retention scheme, and additional grants from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, that the company has managed to weather the storm. Blythe recently admitted that without it, the company purse would have completely run out in November 2020.
Yet, even with limited funds, resources, and a skeleton team of staff working from home, the company has managed to: relaunch its brand – originally Leeds Grand Theatre & Opera House Ltd.: continue work on the Picture House Project and launch the online campaign #HydeParkPics; build a virtual creative, familiar structure for the company’s young people (some of whom are particularly vulnerable), plus run free online masterclasses for aspiring actors; manage an everchanging show calendar that has meant informing, moving and refunding literally tens of thousands of customers – all without the luxury of the usual systems; plus ensure the buildings are maintained and made Covid-secure for returning audiences and staff to work.
Blythe ends: “It is testament to the stoic determination, resilience and creativity of our people, plus the overwhelmingly generous financial and emotional support of our audiences, that we are still here and planning our own roadmap out of lockdown.
“Whilst I am certain that the coming months will continue to challenge and test us, our region, and the country, I am confident our curtains will rise again.”
The announcement from Leeds Heritage Theatres coincides with the launch of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatres’ campaign to shine a light on the thousands of live arts professionals who have been unable to work throughout the pandemic and left ineligible for government support schemes. People from across the industry, including Celebrities from the theatre community, will be using the hashtag #FirstInLastOut to increase awareness of the ongoing challenge and raise money for the Theatre Artists Fund.