Friday, January 22News For London

The ‘Locked’ Actors in the lockdown cities

Theatres in the cities Tier 2 and below can be reopened after Boris Johnson publicly announced new rules about the end of lockdown in 3 December, which is undoubtedly the best opportunity for some of the actors to return to the stage. 

Since UK lockdown in March, many actors are out of work. “They’re very talented, but they can’t stand on stage,” said a cabaret teacher, who has seen actors around her lose their jobs one after another.

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Jody Zimmerman, a musical theatre actress, did the latest performance before pandemic. Photo by Jody Zimmerman

A ‘locked’ year for actors

Grace Beazleigh, who was learning music theatre and graduated from Lain Theatre Art Collage this year, has been eager to perform on stage, but the sudden lockdown in March made it difficult for her. “When everything was cancelled, I can’t really look for performing job because there’s nothing at that moment,” she told Westminster World. 

Now she is working as a school teacher because no theatre is open. “I’ve teaching dancing and singing since March. I’m not doing what I want to do, but it’s fine, for now, I’m getting paid and very stable.” But other actors are not as lucky.

Grace told us that income has become difficult because of the reduction in shows, leaving many actors seek part-time jobs. Many perform in the evenings, and by day, they’ll be a waitress, bar staff or work in retail.

There have already been 10,000 job losses in the theatre industry, according to UK Theatre. Some actors, who just graduated like Grace, change their careers because so many professionals have been on furlough, and are unable to seek help from agents or managers to get the job. “One of my friends is working in a supermarket. She’s so talented, and she should be on stage. But she’s working in Sainsbury,” said Grace.

Jody Zimmerman, who was a musical theatre actress and does tours in cruises, said: “The cruises haven’t done any shows since March. So I don’t have a performing job right now.” She tried to sell paintings to friends and family to generate some income. Now she works as a manicurist in a beauty salon. “I wouldn’t have done that if it weren’t for covid. I’m just waiting for the theatre to come back so that I can get a job in a show again, hopefully,” she said. 

Some performances are recorded and streamed online via Zoom, which gave Jody her first performance in eight months, but she still thinks theatre is the best place for onstage actors.

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People waking pass the closed theatre. Photo by Shiyan Wang

Will lockdown ending save theatres and actors?

Boris Johnson’s announcement obviously saves those actors and theatres’ staffs from the city below Tier2. An actor from Southampton said he has been told to restart his pantomime rehearsal for Christmas and it got him excited. But not everyone gets a chance to perform again, ”It’s so competitive now because nobody has a job, so thousands and thousands of actors are going for that one job,” said Jody.

For most theatres, the shows resuming their runs aren’t opening to make a profit but to provide opportunities to the workforce and bring audiences back to boost the local economy.

National Theatre director Norris said that advance notice of a reopening date would be invaluable. ”There’s the amount of time it takes to get a production up and running, to rehearse it, but more than anything to actually sell it. There’s no point opening a show if you don’t have an audience.”

However, theatres in cities under Tier 3 are hit the hardest. Responding to the announcement, Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatres and UK Theatre, said: ”Tier 3 areas yet again are forced to postpone or cancel shows – including Pantos, usually a highlight for families and a vital source of income for theatres around the country.”

Jack Wall, an actor from Bristol, just received a performing opportunity for Christmas before the announcement, but now it faces cancellation. ”I had to move to other Tier 2 cities to do shows, or I will lose my job again,” he said.