A leading Northern Ireland actor and playwright has welcomed the reopening of theatres, but said it had been a “long time coming”.
Following a virtual meeting of the Stormont Executive, some rules are being relaxed from 6pm on Tuesday to allow theatres and concert venues to reopen for the first time since March 2020.
Playwright Dan Gordon said: “It’s a very good day but it’s been a long time coming. We seem to have been at the bottom of the pile.
It has been bewildering to see all that has been going on around us while the theatres have stayed closedDan Gordon
“We’ve had the Euros, the golf, the motor-racing. All these other things, even cinemas opening and still the theatres weren’t opening, so it was very, very difficult to take.
“We are all very well behaved so nobody made a big fuss, we know there’s a pandemic, but it has been bewildering to see all that has been going on around us while the theatres have stayed closed.”
Gordon said the long period of closure had left a deep impact on the live theatre industry.
“We have been losing young people out of the game, because they have to go and find work elsewhere,” he said.
“In our business, some have gone under, but there has been a lot of online stuff being produced, but it is still not theatre.
“There has been a lot of moves to do stuff outside, but getting the theatres open again is the big thing.”
Keiran Griffiths, director and producer at the Playhouse Theatre in Londonderry, said staff can’t wait to reopen the doors.
He said: “This is the news we’ve been so eagerly waiting for since we closed our doors to audiences in March 2020.
“When the doors closed, we were left asking how do you connect people through art without people? People are at the heart of what we do, we are here to create community, celebrate diversity and empower people through the arts.
“So we had to adapt. While closed to the public, we continued our education and peacebuilding work, and new broadcasting infrastructure helped us keep creating and producing our theatre work.
“Because of digital we’ve been able to reach more people and tell more stories than even before, but people still need a physical space to come together, tell stories, create, and experience art together. We can’t wait to provide that again.”
Jimmy Fay, executive producer of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, said: “We are delighted that the NI Executive made the decision to reopen theatres to live audiences, for the first time since last March. We were the last industry to open to the public, and we are confident that we will do this in a safe and enjoyable way when we open our doors on Tuesday evening to our first live audiences.
“However it should be said that we as a theatre have never stopped working, we have never stopped creating. Throughout the last 16 months we have gone online, on radio and on TV, with partnerships with the BBC and others, reaching a huge international audience.
“But a theatre needs its audience to share in that special experience of live theatre together and we are thrilled to welcome them back this week for our production of Dracula.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she expected all venues to have measures in place to ensure they are Covid-safe environments.
She added: “The huge part that the arts play in our lives has come into sharp focus through the closure of theatres, concert halls and other venues during the pandemic with the necessary cancellation of so many performances.
“When these venues suffer so does our economy as they employ thousands of staff directly and indirectly, they help boost tourism and also work to support our hospitality sector.”