No-one knows how long our society will be battling Coronavirus or how it will look once the crisis is over. What we do know is that art is – and will continue to be – as important as ever, providing us with a form of escapism, a quiet moment of reflection and a connection to others.
On Monday 16 March we closed the Coliseum’s building on Fairbottom Street with immediate effect, following the Government’s advice that people should avoid public buildings. Since then, and during the subsequent UK lockdown, we’ve been considering what that means for our audiences and our current programme of work.
It is with heavy hearts that we have decided to postpone, or cancel if absolutely necessary, all forthcoming events in our building before the end of August 2020. We have also made the difficult decision to cancel our September production of Cooking With Elvis as we wait for guidance from the Government on how and when theatres will be able to stage live performances again. Cooking With Elvis requires a lot of close physical proximity between actors and so it would be impossible to rehearse and stage within current social distancing guidelines. The show also comes with a great deal of expense and to stage it and only be able to sell a small percentage of our seats is financially impossible for the Coliseum.
We have also cancelled our co-production of the pop-up theatre Roundabout, with Paines Plough and York Theatre Royal, which was due to pop up outside Oldham’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June and July, with a programme including four new plays, comedy, music and local community events before heading onto the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which is now also cancelled).
These decisions have been made with the wellbeing of our communities, audiences, staff, artists, and our theatre’s great legacy at the forefront.
Our production of The Jungle Book was in the middle of its rehearsals when we closed and would have been on our stage this Easter. We’ve now confirmed new dates for The Jungle Book for Easter 2021, and we’re working to reschedule the rest of our Spring-Summer 2020 season wherever possible as a matter of priority.
Our physical stages may be dark but we believe it’s vital that we continue to serve our audiences and communities during this difficult time. We’ve already begun creating and sharing art digitally with the launch of our new Mini-Podcast Series on World Theatre Day, and we have many more plans and opportunities in the works, collaborating with other organisations in Oldham, the North West and nationally.
We know there are many people who have a long-standing relationship with the Coliseum but don’t use digital technology to engage with the theatre, and so we’re also considering new ways that we can continue to connect with them whilst the building is closed.
Our regular groups for young people: The Young Rep, TheatreLab delivered with Oldham Theatre Workshop, The Steering Group and Teaching Theatre Pathways; and for adults: Full Circle over 50s group and Dementia Friendly Workshops are all currently suspended, and our play reading and writing groups, Scripts & Scribbles, have moved online. In place of our usual sessions we’re implementing a programme of activity to use this unprecedented experience as a spark for creativity, and our most vulnerable participants are receiving regular phone calls from our team in place of their regular social activities to help prevent loneliness and offer support.
The Coliseum also works with over 15 local secondary schools and colleges across Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside, using drama as a tool for learning as well as teaching theatre practice. Although the methods through which we are delivering our service has changed, we’re quickly putting new plans into action to continue engaging with these students.
Oldham Coliseum Theatre has been serving Oldham and its communities for 135 years and has only closed once before. In 1939 it was a group of passionate theatre lovers, the Oldham Repertory Theatre Club, that brought our theatre back to life and it will be passionate theatre lovers of all ages and backgrounds that will keep theatre alive in Oldham during this crisis.
We are incredibly grateful to Arts Council England, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Oldham Council for the lifeline of support they have offered the Coliseum. We also thank each and every one of our audiences, participants, partners, patrons and sponsors for their generosity and patience during this time.
Without events and ticket sales, maintaining our business is very difficult. Like many theatres that have had to cancel performances we have set up a campaign to ask people who love the Coliseum as we do to consider donating all or part of their ticket costs for any cancelled events, or donate online to help support the theatre if they are able to at this difficult time, or simply help us by sharing our message. #YourColiseumNeedsYou
Our small but dedicated team is contacting ticket holders with rescheduled dates and information. If you have tickets for any cancelled or rescheduled events please bear with us. We’re not able to operate in our usual way at the moment so it may take us some time to contact everyone but we’re working to ensure this happens as quickly as possible.
We’re already looking forward to welcoming our audiences back into the Coliseum as soon as we are able. Until then stay safe, keep an eye on our Social Media channels and keep in touch.
| Chris Lawson
| Susan Wildman