One of the early adopters of Scenesaver, Stephen Beeny, Communications Manager at Half Moon Theatre talked to us about adapting to online performance and keeping families and young people engaged, entertained, creative and inspired during lockdown.
The day after we closed our doors to the public, on Tuesday 17 March 2020, should have been the first performance of Dust, a really exciting new show for young people by award award-winning children’s author Laura Dockrill, with music by Hugo White of The Maccabees. This co-production with Z-arts should have toured to seven further venues across the UK, but we had to cancel everything, which was heartbreaking. All the hard work, creativity and excitement surrounding a new show was savagely cut short and the actors and crew sent home. It was devastating and I think we were all in a state of shock. Suddenly we were all working from home, often alone, and without our usual support networks to engage with face to face.
Two months later we had to do the same thing again with our tour of Big Red Bath, a co-production with Full House Theatre, of Julia Jarman and Adrian Reynolds’ popular children’s picture book. It’s been devastating not to be able to perform these shows and inspire and stimulate young audiences, many of whom would have been visiting the theatre for the first time.
We quickly tried to adapt our work for online audiences so we could continue to engage our local community during these difficult times – if families and young people couldn’t come to Half Moon Theatre, then we could go to them!
We made 11 of our recent shows for young people available to watch for free online, offered creative sessions via Zoom for our youth participants, and are working with local schools to support Year 6 students with their transition to secondary schools, a project that is even more important at the moment.
During the first online sessions for our 8 to 18 year old Youth Theatre members everyone said they had been feeling lonely and that seeing friends via Zoom made a real difference. They were struggling with how their normal routine and the things they love to do with others had disappeared from their lives. Some told us that they hadn’t seen anyone other than their family, even via virtual communication, until they started our sessions.
One parent told us: “It’s been an extremely stressful few months and I cannot thank you enough for putting a smile on my daughters’ faces. I really love the way they engage with the games; they help me forget how grim the present situation is.”
Through our online sessions for children under 5, we discovered that many people have not left the house throughout lockdown. Young people can articulate that they must not come into contact with people outside. Rapidly, they have lost their care-free attitudes and feel high levels of anxiety and responsibility to keep their parents safe if they are shielding. Some young people have not wanted to join online sessions and these young people will feel very isolated when they come out of lockdown.
Over the coming months, the support we offer young people will be needed more than ever. Exploring through drama and understanding through theatre will help young people emerge from the trauma of this time.
It’s rewarding that people have accessed our work from home and the feedback from families has been fantastic. Schools have also used our online productions and resources in their remote teaching. This has been a real positive in a difficult and uncertain time for us.
We’re only a small team, but we’ve had to furlough two of our staff members, which has been challenging for everyone as we’re like a family. However, we’re excited about the future. We’re looking at new ways of connecting with our local communities, through live streaming and digital content. Plus, in August, we hope to be running Sumer Schools in the theatre. The building will remain closed to the wider public (for now), but it’s going to be fantastic to work with local children and young people at this critical time. Plus, we look forward to reopening our doors as a theatre as soon as it is safe to do so.