Two years ago, Jazz Hands CIC took to the stage at the Palace Theatre, we were looking forward to a bright future managing and operating this cultural gem. We started to update the theatre, the programme and create a new vibe to complement our established performances.
The first two years weren’t a bed of roses, running theatre is a tricky business, but with our fabulous team we have worked hard, been tenacious, taken chances, had successes and a few bum notes. Most importantly we won hearts and minds. We were breathing new life into the Palace Theatre – we’d increased our audiences to over 50% which is above the national average, we had lots of happy customers and had started in invest in further upgrades on the building, inside and out – including launching Stage Left.
We had a sell out on 13 March, and as a team we gustily sang ‘we are the champions’ along with Freddie and the Queen Experience on our stage. Then suddenly, our curtain went down, and the theatre was dark.
Since the Covid-19 closure we have been busy off stage. What has been important to us, is not to give up, we have too much to give and too much still to do – that’s not saying we have been complacent or unrealistic, it’s been a terrible emotional rollercoaster for the whole team, most of the core team are now furloughed. We have rolled our sleeves up and carried on, I can’t say kept calm, because that would be pure theatre.
We started by rescheduling all our March performances and worked with all our performers to hold ‘just in case’ new dates; most of these dates have now been secured as we roll everything forward. We have prepared as much as possible without the benefit of a crystal ball. We are looking at new ways to manage performances, from reducing audience sizes, to increasing the entrances we use and how we can deliver ‘at seat drinks’, rather than a busy bar.
We have been blown away by the support from our performers and customers, ‘you’re doing a great job’ and ‘we miss our evenings at the Palace and can’t wait to get back’ are reoccurring messages. Before 14 March, bookings were rolling in daily, now we are celebrating one or two bookings a week. They shine like a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
We have received donations to our Crowdfunder, which is ongoing, and your support is welcome; we have benefitted from a grant from both Torbay Council and the Arts Council, and a loan from our bank. This is helping us to keep the pantomime villain from the door, for now, it’s gutting as our business plan is focused on making sure that the theatre was self-sustaining, and we were well on target. We always said that the Palace Theatre was a big ship to turn, we had started making real progress, we’d budgeted carefully and to watch it disappear overnight is heart-breaking.
We know it won’t be easy to come back. When we are able to open, we cannot just expect a full house on day one, we’ll know we’ll need to rebuild, again. But we remain positive. We will be back in the spotlight once this awful drama is over. The show will go on.
We don’t know when this will be, but we’d just ask that you all keep a light on for live theatre, and for all the cultural venues and attractions in this great destination. They need you as much as you are missing them.
Much love to you all, Maureen and Deirdre.