THE coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on local theatres. Bingley Little Theatre chairman Richard Thompson and vice chairman David Kirk discuss the fall-out, and their plans for the future:

The impact in terms of re-scheduling shows has been enormous, not just for Bingley Little Theatre (BLT) productions, but also the full diary of concerts, dance school activities, social events, meetings and touring professional productions which we host at Bingley Arts Centre. The impact on our Kaleidoscope Youth Theatre students has been felt enormously during this time and although we’ve been able to move classes online, it’s just not the same for our young people.

In addition to our own productions, we will try and be as flexible as possible in rescheduling and booking in comedy events, concerts and small-scale touring companies to offer as varied a programme as possible, encouraging people of all ages to visit the venue and see for themselves how safe, secure and welcoming it is.

Bingley Arts Centre has remained open for Bingley Food Bank and NHS Blood Donor Services over the last 12 months, and recently we’ve been able to offer space in the venue for It’s Worth Talking About, a local mental health charity, to run regular support sessions.

We plan to reopen BLT as soon as we can this summer, with the comedy Same Time Next Year (hopefully June 28 to July 3). Our community cinema should go ahead and we hope to hold a record fair in July. We have a new season starting in September with Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, to lift spirits. It also includes popular choices postponed from 2020, such as One Man Two Guvnors and The Crucible, with added shows such as Little Shop of Horrors and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Despite our doors being closed, we’re delighted that there has been a high level of interest from people keen to join BLT - expanding our acting and backstage list is really important for the future of our society.

When we reopen, the safety of audiences, members, volunteers and visiting companies will be paramount. Plans are in place for a one-way system, distancing as appropriate and hand-sanitising stations in public and backstage areas. We have purchased an ionising fogging machine to sanitise public spaces in addition to our enhanced cleaning regime.

The effect of Covid has been devastating, particularly for freelance artists who have repeatedly slipped through the net of government support.

Hopefully, our flexible programming will support some freelance artists through being a receiving hub for small-scale touring productions. From an amateur theatre point of view, we remain hopeful that our audiences and volunteers will return to keep Bingley Arts Centre and BLT at the heart of our community.

It’s not simply about returning to normal but taking time to carefully gauge the impact of the pandemic on our own systems and procedures and on audience expectations.

Looking at how we can diversify to attract a wider audience base locally and extending our reach regionally.

Talking to our members, community and audiences is so important; to understand what might we do differently, at the same time retaining and building on our superb reputation for high quality theatre and a jewel in Bingley’s crown.