February 2021

Awarded Regional Theatre of the Year 2019 by The Stage, Nottingham Playhouse is one of the country’s leading producing theatres and creates a range of productions throughout the year, from timeless classics to innovative family shows and adventurous new commissions. We spoke to the team about their Covid-19 response strategies and how they have been coping in the face of a pandemic. Litchfield Garrick's four-point Community Story covers:

  1. Life in Lock-down
  2. Adapting to New Approaches
  3. Navigating the New Normal
  4. Considering our Comeback

Life in Lock-down

Before the Covid-19 pandemic we welcomed over 120,000 audience members each year. Like every other theatre around the country, the pandemic closed the doors of our building to the public in March 2020. And, since earned income represents over 70% of our turnover each year, with the majority of that coming from ticket sales, the closure of our building had a major impact. Unpicking our programme of shows, rescheduling and cancelling some productions multiple times and disappointing our wonderful audience members and participants was heart-breaking.

But… we’re also passionate about what we do - we create theatre that’s bold, thrilling and proudly made in Nottingham. And, we weren’t going to let a global pandemic get in the way of that.

Adapting to New Approaches

Engaging audiences digitally has been the keystone of our work since March 2020.

During the very early days of the crisis, at the start of the first lockdown in spring 2020, we moved as much work as we could online. Initially this was focussed on re-releasing existing video pieces, such as Mass Bolero, as well as moving our participation and artist development programmes online. In May we launched our first piece of new digital theatre with an interactive Zoom play for children called Noah and the Peacock. Having partnered with the National Theatre in 2018 with the cinema broadcast of our production of The Madness of George III, we were also delighted when the production was released as part of NT at Home in June.

During October and November 2020, Nottingham Playhouse staged the Unlocked festival of live and live-streamed events, to both in-person and digital audiences. In the run up to the festival, our team re-designed our customer service and auditorium seating to be both Covid-secure and retain our warm welcome for in-person audiences. Following the festival we used The Audience Agency’s survey to assess the success of festival, including the Covid-19 specific measures we’d put in place. The survey findings are being used to help us prepare for our re-opening in 2021.

Navigating the New Normal

The annual Nottingham Playhouse panto is a local institution, so it was a blow when our original production of Beauty and the Beast was postponed to December 2021.

With social distancing required for both the production process and audiences, we created a new version of Cinderella, specially adapted with an online audience also in mind. As it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to welcome audiences in person, due to the introduction of first local then national restrictions, our attention focussed on our digital audiences.

Available on demand from Nottingham Playhouse’s new website, with integrated paywall to our Spektrix ticketing system, we were able to make sure members of over 3,500 households, and students from 69 schools, didn’t miss the joy of their annual panto fix.

Using Audience Finder tools, we’ve been able to compare our 2020 digital panto audiences against our traditional in-person audiences. This is giving us an understanding of the impact of the pandemic this year and is helping us plan our digital approach and marketing strategy for 2021.

Considering our Comeback

2020 was an extraordinary year by any standard and there’s a great deal of ongoing uncertainty from the viewpoint of February 2021. As we continue to shape and re-shape our plans, both live and digital, all of us at the Playhouse will continue to be guided by our core mission to create theatre that’s bold, thrilling and proudly made in Nottingham.

Interested in contributing a Community Story of your own? Download the template HERE.

If you have any questions or are ready to send over a story, please get in touch with vanny.lambert@theaudienceagency.org