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Sheffield's diverse theatre scene bounces back after a long lockdown

Theatres shut the doors over a year ago due to Covid-19 restrictions, but are now beginning to welcome audiences through their doors once again.

Crucible theatre
Sheffield Theatres / Smart Banda

Sheffield’s theatre scene is huge. When the pandemic forced live venues to close, numerous livelihoods were impacted. I spoke to theatres from across the city about their experiences of returning to business, and what we can expect to see from them in the near future.

While the easing of restrictions meant that some larger theatres were able to swiftly reopen, not all of Sheffield’s venues have bounced back from the impacts of the pandemic so soon.

The Lantern is the oldest surviving theatre in the city, owned by charity and theatre group The Dilys Guite Players (DGP); staffed entirely by volunteers and comprising a board of just seven members, DGP were largely unable to access the building during lockdowns due to distancing restrictions.

The lack of governmental support for theatres, alongside other venues such as pubs and nightclubs, made it unclear as to how theatre administration should continue.

Midsummer Nights Dream59

A Midsummer Night's Dream production at The Lantern.

The Lantern

Kevin Jackson, Chair and Director of the DGP, tells us: “It’s a strange thing because although the theatre closed, stuff happening in the background didn’t. There were still bills to pay and memberships to run.”

The Lantern closed its doors for lockdown and will only be officially reopening on 6th November with the outsourced production ‘Scott Doonican’s BIG NEET OUT’. “​It will be exactly 600 days since we closed,” says Kevin.

The reopening was delayed by new Covid-friendly venue guidance from the government - with ventilation systems and open spaces now being required. Smaller venues with little funding have been hit the hardest by this, especially those as structurally old as The Lantern, which is a Grade II listed building.

“Each venue has its own unique requirements. Because we’re such a small place, a Victorian building, we’ve had to make changes so there’s more space for people and more space for volunteers to work in,” Kevin explains, going on to tell us that that the DGP had to apply for grants for PPE and for a full redesign of the front-of-house area and bar to fit the new guidelines.

Sheffield’s theatre scene is held in the hearts of many locals, who’ve grown up with productions in big theatres like the Crucible.

Kevin tells us: “I think the Sheffield scene is fantastic - I’ve lived in Sheffield all my life. My mum used to take me to the Crucible when I was really little, and I think that’s where I first fell in love with theatre.”

The Crucible is one of the city’s most well known locations, but despite its scale Sheffield Theatres - which encompasses the Crucible, Lyceum, and Studio - was still impacted by lockdown restrictions and the lack of major governmental support.

Robert Hastie, Artistic Director at Sheffield Theatres, told us: “It was devastating to have to close. It was a long, hard battle, and it’s not over. We’re still very conscious that audience safety comes first.” However, audiences have rallied to support theatres in the long months following the first lockdown. “People have been donating, sending us messages of support and hope for the future,” says Robert.

One location in the city that prides itself on creativity and experimentalism is Theatre Deli, where theatrical shows are only the beginning. They celebrate culture and arts across all mediums. Nathan Geering, co-Artistic Director of Theatre Deli in both Sheffield and London, tells us: “For Black History Month we’ve got a Black horror film being shown - Tales from the Hood - and alongside that we have a lecturer from the University of Sheffield who specialises in Gothic Horror delivering a talk. There’s always a live theatrical or performance element.”

Theatre deli

Theatre Deli's new Co-Artistic Directors, Ryan Harston and Nathan Geering.

Theatre Deli

Deli’s vibrant programming reflects its core intentions, as Nathan continues: “We’re really passionate about Theatre Deli being an artistic home for the people first and foremost, and talking to the community to find out what they want to see, setting up initiatives so they can feel artistically represented and make work from their doorstep.”

They’re trying to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome. “We have a brand new accessibility policy that is going to be taken into effect as of January 2022 - I can’t tell you too much about that as we’re having an official launch, but we’re excited to make ourselves super accessible for people with disabilities.”

So the future of Sheffield’s theatre looks bright, and there’s a constant stream of fresh upcoming talent which all of the theatres aim to support and nurture. One of Theatre Deli’s most successful initiatives is their Artist Jam sessions, where free spaces are repurposed with a keen community spirit. Anyone can turn up, and artists of any discipline are encouraged to follow Deli’s ‘Each One Teach One’ policy: attendees swap and teach others their own skills and abilities, anything from breakdancing to graffiti art.

“We’ve had breakdancers next to circus performers next to poets next to roller skaters,” Nathan laughs. “Everybody just gets in the space and jams and vibes together.” This sense of interconnectedness, of intermeshing ideas and skills, is a feature of Sheffield’s theatre scene as a whole - something that everyone we spoke to feels makes it so special and different from anywhere else.

Robert, of Sheffield Theatres, told us: “We’re just one part of a really brilliant, exciting, vibrant, diverse landscape. It’s always been a city of makers. It’s a city that really loves and wants its theatre, and we can feel that at the Crucible and in the Lyceum, but you can see it across all the other great theatres in the city.”

With such a level of diversity and supportiveness between theatres, it’s easy to see why the city’s scene has boomed in popularity, and how talent continues to grow. Despite the setbacks of the last two years, Sheffield’s diverse theatres have continued to successfully reopen one by one - and they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

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