A Lichfield-based theatre production company hasn’t allowed a global pandemic to stop its shows. Jenny Amphlett has been finding out more.
Many industries have been decimated by Covid-19, but few more so than the arts. It’s hard to stage any sort of performance if you can’t open a venue, assemble an audience or even allow your performers to stand anywhere near to one another.
Theatres across the world have had to close their doors, cancel or postpone programmes and, at best, offer live streamed performances for audiences to watch from the comfort of their sofa at home.
A handful of brave, entrepreneurial types have found ways to adapt and continue to offer live performances safely. Lichfield-based Let Me In, which was launched in 2019 by Chris Buckle and Martin Pritchard, is one of them.
Chris and Martin have managed to stage sell-out productions since the announcement of the first lockdown in March 2020.
The secrets to their success? Being willing and able to adapt, having great contacts in the industry and setting out with a passion to deliver live theatre rather than a passion to make a large profit.
“We were meant to be touring a musical in March 2020 and had to cancel that, but it wasn’t long before we were thinking of ways to overcome the challenges,” said Chris, who also works full-time in the telecommunications industry.
Chris and Martin, whose day job is head of scenery at Lichfield’s Garrick Theatre, are used to adapting for different locations for each of their Let Me In shows. So it didn’t take them long to come up with the idea of a socially distanced performance (for actors and audience alike) in an outdoor location.
Their all-female production of Lord of the Flies was sold out throughout its outdoor run in the grounds of Woodhouse Farm and Garden in Whittington.
It was Let Me In’s first ever outdoor production – and the first where they asked audience members to bring their own seats with them to help with hygiene and safety precautions.
There was a maximum capacity of 100 people at each performance, with audience members seated in household bubbles and admission allowed an hour before the show to help people to take their seats safely.
Chris and Martin also took the bold step of making the ticket price whatever people could afford to pay, or free if they couldn’t afford to pay.
“In the current economy and situation we all find ourselves in we want theatre to be accessible for all,” said Chris. “Admission to our production of Lord of the Flies was free – with donations very welcome from those who could afford to do so.
“It was a very easy decision to make and one that we took early on when we thought about the many things people would have going on in their lives. We’ve always wanted our work to be accessible, and particularly so for families.
“It was a bit of a gamble because we still had production costs to cover, but we decided that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we took a bit of a hit.”
It also helped that the cast members, grateful to be back doing what they love, offered their services free of charge. They were all from the Lichfield, Alrewas and Whittington areas so didn’t have far to travel.
“I got in touch with Woodhouse Farm and Garden because I used to get my fruit and veg from them and I knew they had a lovely outdoor space,” said Chris. “Thankfully they liked the idea of what we wanted to do.
“We’d already planned the production but we had to adapt it to make it work outdoors and to make it socially distant for the performers. It was a real challenge to make sure the actors wouldn’t get too close to one another.
“Then there was also the challenge of making sure the actors could project to reach an outdoor audience that was spread out over a larger area than you’d usually expect.”
They may have had to stand apart but working under such difficult circumstances seems to have brought the team together.
“When resources are limited you’re forced to be creative,” said Chris. “Creativity comes out of difficult circumstances. It’s meant even more to us as a company and a cast. It also meant so much to us to sell out, that was amazing.”
The audience feedback was very positive after each performance, with people feeling incredibly grateful to be able to get out of the house to watch some live theatre.
Chris, 24, and Martin, 34, met through their mutual love of the arts and their connection with the Lichfield Garrick where Chris has performed on stage and Martin works.
Chris, from Lichfield, and Martin, from Rugeley, staged their first Let Me In production in April 2019.
Choosing the shows falls to Chris while Martin focuses on making things work logistically, often for venues not traditionally used for theatre.
Wherever possible they try to use a local pool of performers and Chris says he likes the idea of subverting stereotypes, hence the all-female Lord of the Flies based on a book with only male characters.
Let Me In works on a profit share basis, with any profits from shows divided between everyone involved.
“There was no profit from Lord of the Flies, but as a company we were happy with that and knew that would be the case at the beginning,” said Chris.
“We all have other jobs too and do this because of a passion for it rather than because it’s a vehicle for making money.”
Chris said: “We’re lucky in a sense that we can adapt to the situation presented by Covid-19 because we’re not based in one place and we’re not restricted to performing in a theatre.
“We can create our production space wherever we need to, as that’s something we were already used to.
“If we need to use an old abandoned building for a performance then we will. We’ve adapted to the circumstances and we’ll carry on doing that.”
Let Me In is hoping to stage The Last Five Years and Pink Moon: An Evening of Folk this spring.