It is with deep regret and a very heavy heart that we have to announce the cancellation of our 2020 production, Snow White.
As you will understand, we have given a huge amount of thought and consideration as to how we could safely produce the annual Inverurie Christmas Pantomime, but given the risks to our audience, cast, crew and production team from Covid-19, we have reached the conclusion that the show cannot proceed.
We understand that many of our customers will be very disappointed by this news. During recent productions, more than 10,000 people have attended the Inverurie Panto each year and many include a visit to the Panto as part of their annual Christmas festivities. We also recognise that many people travel from out-with the immediate area and we realise the impact this will have on the many local companies who rely on this business.
Each year we donate thousands of pounds to local charities and since we took over running the Inverurie Panto we’ve donated over £75,000 in cash as well as donating that same amount again in tickets to those who would otherwise not be able to see the show. We’re disappointed that these charities will miss out this year.
We have held off making this decision for as long as possible, however the Panto production runs on a 14 month cycle. We start to get artwork designed for the show, and prepare for tickets to go on sale soon after the current production closes.
At this point in our current production schedule, auditions would be held, the set would be under construction, backcloths painted, music scores being written and rehearsed, lighting designs created, costumes sewn, scripts finalised and rehearsals commencing. This timescale runs routinely in advance of each production but taking all things into account it simply isn’t possible to work in this way during the current pandemic. This year, we had invested in a new Box Office Ticket system and had not yet placed tickets on sale.
There are a number of other factors which have contributed to our decision.
There has been much in the press in recent months regarding the re-opening of performing arts venues. Social distancing in the theatre just doesn’t work. To cover our costs, we rely on capacities of 80%+. Current Government guidance states that social distancing will remain in place in auditoriums during Phase 4 and this would reduce our capacity to just over 30%. Additionally, the burden on the Council to fully sanitise the Town Hall between shows would be significant. We would need to increase the Front of House staffing and introduce measures such as temperature checks, additional cleaning and sanitising to make the venue Covid-19 compliant.
In our backstage areas, social distancing would be impossible. Space is extremely limited and the practicalities of changing rooms, makeup, wigs and limited space at the side of the stage means that maintaining any sort of safe distance is not viable. Each year the “Panto Flu” usually makes an appearance, simply because so many people are working hard together in close proximity at the same time.
This year, the moment anyone shows any sign of illness, we would have to send them home – and potentially the whole team working on the show. If we lose 2 or 3 of the main cast or crew, the shows become impossible to run. If the unthinkable were to happen and someone were diagnosed with Covid-19, the entire show would have to be cancelled. We simply cannot take that risk.
Lawrence Findlay, the Director of Education and Children’s Services at Aberdeenshire Council has recently suspended private lets of a significant proportion of council owned and operated property until it is confirmed that they are not required for potential education use. The Town Hall falls in to this category and so at present we do not have a guaranteed venue to perform in.
The Inverurie Panto is a small, semi-professional business (meaning that all our staff and crew have other full time jobs), run by husband and wife team Keith and Jo Donaldson. They are supported by a large production team of around 90 people. Each year there is a considerable financial risk associated with producing a pantomime on this scale, all of which is privately funded. To date we’ve had no Government assistance with the significant ongoing running cost of the business, but have put in place a plan to ensure its survival. This year our usual annual insurance isn’t available, or the premiums are so expensive that we cannot afford to have them in place. This makes the financial risk huge – if we have to halt the production for any reason, or if there is a local lockdown we would incur huge financial loses with no protection.
Overall, we have concluded that pantomime needs to be enjoyed in a packed auditorium, where the excitement, fun and adventure flow from the stage to the audience. Our shows are high impact full of singing, dancing and comedy which can only really be experienced as part of a live show where the interaction between cast and the audience can be achieved.
We are, however, considering alternatives should the situation with the Town Hall change in December meaning that we can take advantage of our booking. We are also looking at using our production experience in other outdoor Covid safe events during December – watch this space.
We understand that the renovation works schedules to start in February 2021 have been placed on hold indefinitely and we are hopeful that we can return to the Town Hall with our production in December 2021.
In the meantime, on behalf of the entire team, we hope that you and your families keep safe and well. Thank you for your understanding – we are heartbroken, but feel it is the correct decision to keep our valued audience members, cast and crew safe in these difficult times.
Keith & Jo Donaldson