Clinging to a sloping cliff in Cornwall, the Minack Theatre has a unique backdrop as an open-air theatre. Over the years a variety of acts and performances have played to audiences on the granite-carved stage that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
Built in the 1930s, the theatre has over the years become world famous and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and lockdown restrictions meant theatres across Britain had to close, the Minack immediately started working out a way to reopen safely and survive.
Zoe Curnow, executive director of the Minack, who has been working at the theatre for over 10 years, saw this as an opportunity to reach out to local talent and give back to the community.
“For us, we've been trying to spread the opportunity around for the local performers,” she said.
The Minack was reopened on 4th July and last week small-scale outdoor performances were permitted by the Government, which means that solo performances to a reduced crowd can now be staged.
For the Minack, the lockdown has forced them to focus on sourcing local talent, both to reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 and to keep costs down.
Ms Curnow says this has been successful so far, and it is one of the many reasons that the Minack will continue, after the lockdown, to be a top tourist destination for both domestic and international visitors.
Pre-lockdown the theatre could host around 750–800 people in the audience. Current social distancing restrictions mean around 150–200 can fit in the theatre, which means that to keep costs down the number of acts coming from outside Cornwall will have to be reduced.
They've been investing a significant amount of money, £120,000 to £150,000 pounds a year, in a taking-part education programme.
“We had over 3,000 local school children perform on stage last year through the summer. We've got performers in our academy, which are professional development academies, who are just getting to the point now when they're starting to get places at drama schools and go on into the profession, so for us it's really important here in the far west of Cornwall, to give our Cornish young people those opportunities,” she added.
She believes that theatres across the country could follow suit in adapting to life post-lockdown, utilising the unique place that theatres hold in British culture and as an opportunity to develop talent within their communities.
“Business as normal for the sector cannot come back until social distancing is a thing of the past. But we can all find creative ways to keep theatre going in different ways, and that's what we're trying to do here," Ms Curnow said.
“Focusing a lot of our work on local artists as well, because the sector of the theatre industry who have really struggled are freelance artists. Not just the performers, but the designers and the costume makers – right across the whole sector. It's a real problem, around 30 per cent of freelancers have not been able to get onto the furlough scheme."
The Minack may be unique in its setting, but Ms Curnow believes that theatres can harness their platforms and look to create more outdoor performances to help keep jobs and their theatres running.
“We were planning perspex screens, social distancing signage and hand sanitiser stands. All of those processes are now in place across the site, and we did some staff training to support the staff and enforce the message of social distancing.”
Although cautious of the future of the wider-theatre industry and those who work within it, Ms Curnow is optimistic that the Minack itself will continue to thrive as domestic tourism picks up as lockdown eases.
She hopes that the next steps of the government roadmap for the full return of theatre can be established, so that the wider-theatre industry can return and bring back the many jobs the industry provides.