Regional theatres keep curtains open despite COVID | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Regional theatres keep curtains open despite COVID

From driveway performances and reduced-capacity shows to hibernation – even turning off the back office fridge to save money, theatre groups of the Noosa, Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay regions managed to survive COVID-19 lockdowns without folding for good.

The sector’s diverse responses and impacts sustained have been analysed in new research by University of the Sunshine Coast International Business and Drama academics.

Thirteen theatre groups with varying numbers of members, volunteers, contractors and directors were interviewed between February and July this year by Associate Lecturer Dr Jacqueline Burgess, Lecturer Dr Jo Loth and Senior Lecturer Dr Saskia de Klerk.

Dr Burgess said the wide range of impacts showed the need for more customised support for regional groups in future, to ensure they thrived as cultural connections for communities, serving loyal audiences and attracting new ones.

“Our research found that nine theatres created new ways to present their productions and adapt to smaller audience sizes,” she said.

“This included putting on short shows, performing outside, on driveways, on Zoom, livestreaming and podcasting. Five theatres intend to keep some of their technological innovations.

“However, while some theatres had success, five felt that COVID-19 had a big financial cost, struggled to survive or substantially reduced their cash reserves. One switched off all electronics, even the fridge, to lower bills. Some hibernated.”

The research will be outlined in an industry report for the sector, including regional councils and the Sunshine Coast Arts Alliance.

Dr Burgess said the responses showed that the sector could be resilient, adaptable and determined, using networking and government information and support to respond.

“That none of them had to cease operation permanently is testament to this, despite reports of stress and financial hardship,” she said.

Noosa Arts Theatre presents Mammamia. Picture supplied
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