Theatre on Thin Ice.

Theatre on Thin Ice.

Image: An American in Paris

The Performing Arts is holding its breath about whether the latest surge of infections will close the industry again. David Spicer looks at how companies which were devastated by the Delta variant are bouncing back, along with the setbacks they are encountering along the road back.

Breaking: The Australian premiere of an American in Paris - due to open in Brisbane - has been postponed due to an outbreak of Covid-19. Seasons in Perth and Adelaide have also been postponed.

In a statement from The Australian Ballet and GWB Entertainment the companies announced that due to the current impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, next month’s Adelaide and Perth seasons of the lavish Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical, An American in Paris will be postponed.

New season dates will be announced as soon as possible for both cities, with ticket holders urged to hold onto their tickets until new dates are confirmed.

The Melbourne and Sydney seasons of the production will perform as scheduled, from 18 March at Arts Centre Melbourne, and 29 April at Theatre Royal Sydney.

The Company is looking forward to resuming its Brisbane season at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre on Tuesday 18 January, after a brief pause due to challenges presented by Covid-19."

Co-producer, GWB Entertainment’s Torben Brookman said: “Despite going to enormous efforts to protect our entire Company, like so many productions and events around the country, we have been unable to prevent Covid impacting on An American in Paris’s Brisbane season.

“Thankfully, most affected members are asymptomatic or exhibiting very mild symptoms, but there is a huge strain right now across everyone involved in the industry physically, emotionally and financially.

“For an industry that was only just starting to recover from the first 18 months of COVID challenges and restrictions, the latest round of challenges has been devastating.”

Previous updates: Sydney performances of The Wedding Singer the Musical have been cancelled from Thursday 6 January to Wednesday 12 January inclusive due to members of the cast contracting Covid-19.

After Australian superstar Hugh Jackman confirmed he had tested positive to Covid-19, the Broadway production of The Music Man had to be put on hold. Jackman released a video saying he had mild symptoms of a scratchy throat and a cold.

Image: Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, and cast of The Music Man. Photographer: Joan Marcus.

Stage Whispers has been told that the cast of the musical Jagged Little Pill has been hit hard by the Coronavirus. The Sydney season wound up before Christmas, but the illnesses have prompted producers to cancel the first week of performances in Melbourne. The season was scheduled to open on January 4, 2022 but now will not open until January 13.

Performances of Hamilton and Come from Away in Sydney were suspended due to outbreaks of Covid-19 during December.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that "Opera Australia has cancelled performances of Great Opera Hits at the Sydney Opera House from December 26 to 28 and suspended rehearsals for La Boheme ahead of its New Year’s Eve performance.

Chief executive Fiona Allan said there had been an outbreak across the company, in “almost every aspect of the business” including singers, before Christmas. This had happened despite requiring everyone to be double vaccinated, wear masks in the office and daily testing."

The Sport for Jove Theatre Company also confirmed that it has had to cancel performances  on Wed 22nd and Thur 23rd of December of its outdoor production of As You Like It due to a "content event within the cast."

These developments reflect what is happening in Europe and the United States.

The BBC reports that almost half of London’s major theatres were forced to cancel last weekend because of Covid infections. 22 productions were halted including Hamilton, Matilda and Wicked.

Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh said it was "hugely disruptive" and the industry was in a "dreadful state".

He told BBC News, "It's literally day-to-day. We spend all morning trying to work out if we can do the show or not.

It was not Government mandates which shut the productions, but infections in the cast and crew.

There has been a similar story on Broadway, with many productions cancelled for the same reason.

Jagged Little Pill announced it is closing altogether after COVID stopped performances.

In Sydney, major venues are insisting that all members of the public check in, wear masks and show proof of vaccination despite the easing of restrictions by the NSW Government.

For the last few weeks, I have been working in the foyer of the Seymour Centre in Sydney and so far members of the public are still turning up in good numbers.  This was not the case during other surges when there were large numbers of no-shows.

Earlier this year I spoke to artists affected by the Delta virus.

The wrecking ball of COVID-19 was indiscriminate. The cast of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s new production of Cyrano navigated rehearsal disruptions during July to get the show ready for its premiere in August.

Image: Cyrano. Image by Jo Duck and Mark Conlan.

“It was two hours off opening. It was five o’clock when (the Premier) made the call (to shutdown) so the cast had all done their warmups and were getting ready. It was heartbreaking,” said a member of the production team.

Cyrano has now been re-scheduled by the Melbourne Theatre Company for September 2022.

In Sydney, the Hayes Theatre had just completed one preview of its new production of Merrily We Roll Along when the guillotine came down.

“It was devastating for them,” said the Hayes Theatre’s General Manager Will Harvey. “There were a lot of first-time professionals in the cast. We had just completed a dream rehearsal period.”

Merrily We Roll Along was the first production to re-open the Hayes Theatre and enjoyed excellent reviews and ultimately full capacity houses at an extended season.  

Image: Ainsley Melham, Andrew Coshan & Elise McCann in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. Photographer: Phil Erbacher

For theatre companies which receive public funding and philanthropy, the financial blow has been cushioned to some extent by Government grants. Millions of dollars have been thrown at Opera Australia and other companies.

Theatre companies - professional, independent and community - and schools, which have had productions cancelled, are less fortunate.

The Ballarat Lyric Theatre had a cracker of an opening night for its season of We Will Rock You, but the postponement of the rest of its season until 2022 will leave it out of pocket an estimated $100,000.

The season has been re-scheduled for February.

In Sydney, the Scout Association’s Cumberland Gang Show had its season called off for the second year – this time after the production was bumped into a major suburban theatre.

Losses in professional theatre run into the millions.

The cancellation carnage has been extensive.  The national tour of Magic Mike Live threw in its wet towel. Major productions due to open in 2021 that have been postponed include a sold-out season of The Phantom of the Opera, the world premiere of The Dismissal.

The Sydney Theatre Company cancelled more than 300 performances and counting.

Lighting struck twice for Melbourne theatre producer James Terry.

His production of Next to Normal closed after a single performance in July, as Melbourne entered its fifth lockdown.

Image: Next to Normal. Photographer: James Terry.

“As the cast took their first (and final) bow of the season, the audience sprung quickly to a standing ovation, with the most thunderous applause. It was a moment I’ll never forget. The show was a hit. We were in shock though about its cancellation.”

With the lockdown deemed a success, he announced the season would return in August with limited capacity.

“The season sold out in about two hours. After another week of tech and rehearsals, we had another preview performance. I brought two dozen doughnuts to the theatre in recognition of a doughnut day (zero cases of COVID).

“By the time I arrived for pre-show, a case was detected and by the following day we entered Lockdown 6, and unknown to us at the time, that show would be our last.

Next to Normal will be my 4th musical production cancelled within a year. Staging a show during this pandemic is pure luck, and I’ve had absolutely none of it.

“With no investors or government support, the financial burden has hit hard. Unrecoverable costs like theatre hire, sound & lighting, wages etc, saw 18 months of my savings evaporate.

Next to Normal is back on track to re-open in March.

Image: Next to Normal. Photographer: James Terry.

Confidence in investing in live entertainment is, to put it mildly, fragile. Live Performance Australia has called for the introduction of a government backed insurance scheme for the live music and entertainment sectors. LPA wants a scheme modelled on what has been introduced in the UK, to compensate promoters if they cancel due to COVID.

So far only Victoria has introduced such an insurance scheme.

James Terry argues that with strict check ins, allocated seating and regular deep cleaning, theatre is one of the safest social activities.

“I’ve often got up to four COVID tests a week to ensure I can work between Harry Potter, Disney’s Frozen and Moulin Rouge - which I’m the resident videographer for. With up to 3-4 work bubbles at each site, producers strictly regulate access and movement so that COVID can’t spread freely.

“It’s brilliantly orchestrated and a single case is yet to circulate. If there’s anywhere you should feel most comfortable, it’s at a theatre.”

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