2020 will always be a year to remember for those who lived through it, and especially for those who lost through it. Whilst the loss for those of us in amateur theatre was not as life-changing, it is something we should remember.
The first impact for LWMS was on its 2020 show, Crazy For You, which was scheduled for 24th March.
The cast and crew had been rehearsing since October 2019, and the show was ready to open. It was 8 days before opening night, when all theatres nationwide were closed on 16th March, due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK. And so, with programmes printed, costumes ready, scenery being packed, cast drilled... overnight the show was cancelled. Our performance was insured, so the Society was luckily able to recover the considerable costs. But for the cast and crew who had mastered all their lines, songs, and tap steps, it was a cruel blow. For Andy Thomas, playing Bobby, the male lead, it was brutal. He had worked harder than anyone to step up to the part. For Hannah Hampson, playing Polly, the female lead, it was heartbreaking, as it was a role she had a lifelong ambition to perform. Most performers are used to experiencing the post-show blues. This time, we hadn't even put on the show. One scene in the show rang all too true...
The further impact was on our centenary celebrations. LWMS had planned a range of events for 2021 as our 100th anniversary approached. We had already obtained the rights to perform Shrek the Musical, in our usual Spring slot at the Royal Spa Centre, which was set to be a big show for the occasion. There was to be a party for a commemorative display in the Spa Centre on the anniversary itself in May, a ball, and a book launch. But as time went on, it became clear that it would not be safe to rehearse, let alone perform in early 2021. We approached the rights-holders to see if Shrek could be delayed, but this wasn't an option, so we were forced to cancel another show. Other events were pushed back, scaled back or abandoned.
We still plan to unveil a plaque and artwork in the Spa Centre in a smaller, socially distanced ceremony in May 2021. And we have still produced a centenary book, which will soon be available. We still hope to be able to meet up, face-to-face, for a special event in September, conditions permitting. We have continued to meet, both as a Society committee and socially online. But it has been an experience unprecedented in our lifetimes, and one which has been hard for those of us who relish the cameraderie of rehearsals, and the adrenaline of performing for others.
What for the long-term future? We hope that the risks of viruses halting performances will be much reduced by vaccines. Insurers now explicitly exclude pandemics, so the risk to small, amateur societies like ours is definitely greater. Like all theatre performers, we work together for long periods, in close proximity. There have always been risks from illness spreading, but there has always been an common attitude that we hope will return: The Show Must Go On.Credit: Ghost Light photo by Jacob Yarborough