2020 began with the promise of being our busiest and most far-reaching year of work to date, with a double-bill set to open at Santa Monica Playhouse in Los Angeles; a rip-roaring staging of Calamity Jane; a revival of David Almond’s brilliant Skellig and a brand-new commission for our Young Production Company, The Dancing Bear & The Hunter In The Stars.
The arrival of a global pandemic, early in the spring, brought Playbox Theatre’s work crashing to a halt overnight, and the company suddenly faced an uncertain future, for the first time since opening its doors in 1986.
Only weeks since 200 young actors had performed in our annual Starry Nights gala on the main stage (February 2020) we were forced to immediate close our workshops, rehearsals, and theatre building, leaving only the Ghost Light to keep us safe from the dark.
The spirit of Playbox Theatre has never been one to be kept down in the face of adversity, indeed its entire foundations are built upon a desire to challenge preconceptions and to meet danger and opposition head-on, with a fire and a determination that thunders through every pore of the company, and so the management launched a major reinvention of the organisation and, after only 5 days, Playbox Online was born and we began to breathe once more.
The next few months were spent with relentless engagement with our members, families and alumni. We offered a huge and entirely free programme of online work, including workshops; masterclasses; tutorials; daily online storytelling; Chatterbox live celebrity interviews each week; competitions; resources; play-readings; online performance projects and so much more. We were busier than ever and provided a lively and energetic alternative for young people, who were facing such change in their own worlds. For many, we are told, Playbox Theatre was a lifeline.
We launched a major fundraising campaign to Save Playbox, in light of the instant financial impact of the pandemic. With huge support from Playbox’s large alumni, dating back 35 years, as well as current members and their families, we were able to raise nearly £50,000 which, along with life-saving support from Arts Council England and Warwick District Council, enabled us to weather the gruelling time ahead.
As summer 2020 arrived, and face-to-face contact was allowed, Playbox Theatre reopened its doors with an exemplary Covid-19 health & safety programme, that was lauded as a model of excellent. An entire lost season of workshops were delivered during August 2020, before the autumn season arrived.
In spite of conventional theatre’s being closed to audiences, Playbox developed a socially-distanced Son Et Lumiere performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, blending video, live actors, voice and music. We welcomed audiences back once more!
With lockdowns becoming more frequent, our theatre was turned into a series of Zoom studios, with multiple workshops running all day, every day, to ensure that not one minute of training was missed, and the excellence that is expected of Playbox Theatre was delivered in new and exciting ways.
2020 concluded with a huge, optimistic, Festival Of Light, with 1,000s sparkling lights decorating both the interior, and exterior, of The Dream Factory.
Our Winter season of workshops and holiday projects were delivered and we look to 2021 with renewed perspective, enthusiasm and excitement. We look forward to a refreshed and refocussed Playbox Theatre emerging thoughtfully from this unprecedented experience.
We thank our members, families, friends, staff and alumni for being there when we most needed you, and for ensuring that Playbox Theatre remains for the next generation of creative young people.