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Let theatres reopen safely, Northern Ireland composer Conor Mitchell tells Stormont

Arts have been closed to audiences since the first lockdown in March


Difficulties: Conor Mitchell would like to see live theatre return

Difficulties: Conor Mitchell would like to see live theatre return

Difficulties: Conor Mitchell would like to see live theatre return

Theatres across Northern Ireland have been forced to bring performances to an online audience during the Covid-19 pandemic - but composer Conor Mitchell believes they are more than capable of allowing crowds back safely.

Outdoor and indoor visitor attractions, museums, galleries and libraries were permitted to reopen after the circuit breaker lockdown restrictions were lifted on Friday.

However, concert halls and theatres here remain closed, except for rehearsals and recordings, and have been shut since the original lockdown in March.

Mr Mitchell (43) from the Belfast Ensemble, which brought 'Abomination, A DUP Opera' to south Belfast's Lyric Theatre last year, said the pandemic has decimated the arts sector.

In a bid to reach audiences, the Belfast Ensemble aired its DUP opera production, which explored former MP Iris Robinson's controversial comments on homosexuality in 2008, online in April.

It became the first online opera to ever come out of Belfast and audiences from 32 countries worldwide tuned in within an hour.

"We were producing a series of works over here and in London and expected everything to be shut down for three weeks but it's still shut," reflected Mr Mitchell on the original lockdown.

"The one thing we didn't factor in was the sheer scale of this and the fact that we now have to completely redress audiences in how we approach them.

"It's just something that we never thought would happen in our lifetime.

"It's like something from the Great Plague.

"In other industries people are able to go into work and people are able to reopen shops."

Mr Mitchell added that he couldn't see the difference between someone attending the theatre and going to a shopping centre.

He believes theatres are more than capable of reopening their doors with strict social distancing and safety measures in place for audiences.

"[The pandemic] has forced companies like mine and the Lyric to really engage with other ways to get our work out there," he continued.

"We were all driving to do that and engage with digital audiences but coronavirus forced us all to do it immediately.

"Theatre companies have all become part TV producers, which is good and bad, but we've all learned that nothing replaces live theatre.

"Ultimately it has to be a stop gap, we have to get back in the venues because what sets theatre apart from television is that it is an event."

In a bid to reach out to audiences this Christmas, the Lyric Theatre is encouraging everyone to recreate the magic of the venue at home.

Festive Lyric favourites Conor Grimes and Alan McKee can be joined for a Christmas special 'Listen at the Lyric' - an audio recording of The Nativity.

Family Christmas spectaculars from the past are also on offer, such as Peter Pan: The Musical, Alice: The Musical, and Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.

Elsewhere The Mac Belfast reopened its doors on Friday where visitors returned to explore its galleries and exhibitions including a special display of work by the public, children and professional artists entitled 'In a Rainbow of Coalitions', following an eight week period of closure at the leading arts venue.

Chief executive Anne McReynolds said: "This year, the MAC has been open just six weeks and all of our staff and customers are excited to get back."

Belfast Telegraph