The first theatre performance to take place in front of a live audience in the Granite City since lockdown began more than a year ago will be staged at Aberdeen Arts Centre next month.
Family show Artie’s Singing Kettle will be performed in front of a socially-distanced audience, sitting in their own “pods” in the newly-renovated auditorium of the Covid-secure King Street venue, on May 29.
Arts Centre manager Stephanie Walls said the “welcome back” event is a pilot, with hopefully more to follow as Scottish theatres are allowed to re-open from May 17, with a capacity of 100 people and social distancing measures in place.
She said: “It is very much a trial run, in that we are hoping to programme in some other things to do off the back of it. This will be our first foray into having a proper live public audience coming in to the building since lockdown.
It’s exciting to be back
“It is very exciting and little bit nerve-wracking, but I’m very confident in my little team and all my volunteers that it will go smoothly and people will have a nice time. It’s just exciting to get back to it and see what we can do over the next few weeks and months as we start to get back, hopefully, to some normality.”
Most theatres in Scotland are waiting for further and clearer guidance from the Scottish Government on the precise details of social distancing measures before re-opening fully. But Stephanie said the Arts Centre decided to “just go for it” with their first show on the advice available now, following a model of 2m distance between the seating for household bubbles.
If we are naïve and have to go back, then so be it. We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
Stephanie said: “We have spent a year waiting to see what the advice becomes and it sort of never arrives. So we are running with it. If we are naïve and have to go back, then so be it. We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
With drastically reduced capacity – Artie’s show will be capped at 98 in a theatre that can seat 350 – the Arts Centre, a charitable organisation, will cover its costs and no more, especially without a bar or refreshments on offer.
But that’s not the point, said Stephanie.
Passionate about live entertainment
“Because of the art centre’s ethos and why it is there as a venue in the city, it is just for the common good to give people a chance to come back and experience live entertainment again. We feel very passionate about making sure it is there in the city.”
Artie’s Singing Kettle is a great place for the Arts Centre to start, said Stephanie.
“About a month and a half ago, we had a Singing Kettle Zoom show with Artie, when people from their living room signed up to the link and Artie was there in his back bedroom doing his thing. It was lovely to see people having such a lovely time. We had about 40 or 50 people us.
“We have done quite a few in-person shows with Artie previous to the pandemic and they always went down well.”
We are hoping to do things for other audiences, some music, some drama, some comedy.”
But the bedrock of all this is the relentless drive to make the venue Covid-secure and safe for people who visit. The Arts Centre team has worked tirelessly to remodel the auditorium – thanks to a grant from the Theatre Trust – with 30 pods allowing for families and groups within the Scottish Government guidelines on socialising. The new set up has a maximum capacity of 150.
The venue has been deep-cleaned and safety measures put in place, including one-way systems, audience members being led to their pods, staggered departure times, a two-metre distance rule, and cleaning and fogging of the auditorium between the two performances of the Singing Kettle.
Doors will be kept open during performances to ensure ventilation, so audience members are being advised to bring extra clothes or blankets. Detailed guidelines for the show are on the Aberdeen Arts Centre website.
Ultimate hope is restrictions ease
Discussions are already underway for other shows if the test run on May 29 goes smoothly and successfully.
Stephanie said: “As well as the family provision, with Artie, we are hoping to do things for other audiences, some music, some drama, some comedy, just a little foray to lots of different things.”
The ultimate hope, though, is that restrictions ease so the arts centre, and every other venue across the city, can get back to normal.
For more information visit www.aberdeenartscentre.com