How theatre can help East Anglia recover from the trauma of Covid
- Credit: Mike Kwasniak/New Wolsey Theatre
As coronavirus regulations are relaxed theatre bosses are looking forward to getting back on the stage for many reasons.
Unable to perform in front of audiences throughout most of the pandemic, theatre's have had to scrap shows and performances — including the lucrative panto season.
But, they are also aware that live performance fills an important role in many people's lives that has been missing for the past 16 months.
Stephen Crocker sits on New Anglia LEP Culture Board as well as being chief executive of Norwich Theatre and said that the role played by the arts will be even more important because of this.
"We've talked for 16 months now about the physical health of the nation, while all the time plucking up a serious job to do about rebuilding mental health of the nation," he said.
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"That is one of the key reasons for making sure the culture sector comes through. Because that will be part of our role going forward.
"Going to the theatre, a gallery, or even just reading a book provides that sense of escapism — it's all about storytelling.
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"When you see and hear other people's stories, it gives you perspective on your own experiences. It helps us process things.
"And, gosh, don't we need at this point in time to take some space, and have that kind of outlet to reflect and process what's been an extraordinary trauma."
Sue Lawther-Brown, head of communications at The New Wolsey Theatre, said: "You bring people together into a space and they can laugh and cry and feel things together, which is incredibly important.
"What you're doing is inviting people into a different a different reality and imagining a different world through that piece of art, and that can be really powerful."
The positive impacts of theatre are not just felt by people in the audience, according to Mrs Lawther-Brown.
"The work that we've been doing through our creative communities programme with young people — our youth theatres — we've moved those into a virtual space on Zoom when we've had to, and that's working with young people who have in many ways been traumatised by the last 18 months.
"It gives them a space — either virtually, or in a room when we can be in a room together — to play, to reflect, and to share their thoughts, feelings and fears and their hopes for the future too.
"And that's incredibly important."
But Covid has also affected the art that we will see on stage in future.
Amit Lahav, founder and artistic director of Ipswich-based theatre company Gecko, said the pandemic had been among the most productive periods of his life.
He said: "As artists, as makers, as creators we also have to see the opportunity [of Covid] because it is our job, our role, and our service to constantly challenge the status quo.
"As an artist, you also always have to be slightly in the future slightly in the past and slightly above what's going on to witness, to see, to connect and to comment in whatever way your art form takes."
One of Mr Lahav's productions, Institute, tells the story of patients within a mental health facility and was recently adapted into a film for the BBC.
He describes it as a "a sermon" on how people can move through trauma.
And, he says, it has had a profound impact on audiences.
"I've had people come to me and say: 'I just came back to the theatre to let you know, I left my job this morning after seeing Institute last night. I'd felt stuck in that job for years. And you helped me to move through it'," he said.
"I've had plenty of those sorts of conversations with people."
- Gecko is touring its show The Wedding to on Nottingham Playhouse 13-16 October, Lighthouse Poole 20-21 October and Mercury Colchester 4-5 November
- Details on upcoming shows at The New Wolsey are available here.