Interview with…Anthony Alderson

The Director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust spoke to Emma Clarendon about his love of theatre and the impact Covid-19 will have on the industry.

Hi Anthony, thanks so much for talking to me. How are you coping at the moment with everything that is going on? I am extremely fortunate, I am used to working from home, I have done for many years.
Although I run both the Pleasance in London and Edinburgh, I live in Portobello in Edinburgh, right beside the beach, we have two dogs that need walks and a small garden. Following the beautiful weather over the Easter weekend it has never looked so tidy. Mywife and three children are volunteering, delivering vegetables and basic supplies to people
in our community and they also do some work in the local bakery. We really cannot complain.

What was it initially that made you want to work in the arts industry? My father took me to see Singin’ in the Rain at the London Palladium in the 1970s, it definitely ignited a spark. I may not have realised then, but certainly it is a moment in my life I think back on as defining. Something was different after that, being in a theatre always felt so completely natural. Then, like so many, it was theatre at school that really set me on
my path, that’s where my real love of theatre developed.

How did you come to work at the Pleasance?My family moved to Edinburgh in 1978 and my Mum took me to see my first Fringe show
the following summer. I remember disappearing down a dark Edinburgh Wynd off the Royal Mile and into a tiny little space to watch a one man show. It felt exciting, like nothing I had ever been part of before. When I turned 16, I was finally allowed to work during the Fringe and I got my first job at the Pleasance, founded by my then school teacher, Christopher
Richardson. I came back almost every summer.

What do you enjoy the most about working in the theatre industry?
The people, the emotions, the laughter and the passionate hard work that people put into their work. It is the most exhilarating community to be part of. In the theatre, unlike any other industry, you need almost every sort of ability and trade to be working in unison. Someone once described running a theatre as like running a laundrette: you try to get all the machines to turn in the same direction, inevitably someone starts to go to the other
way, and it is your job to get them all turning collectively again.

What kind of impact long term do you think this Covid-19 crisis will have on the theatre industry? This virus and the social distancing will likely be devastating to this industry. Effectively the audiences stopped in February and I can’t see people returning to theatres in any great
numbers for months after the relaxation of the rules. Audiences have to feel safe in these places and that could take time – for some, until there is a vaccine. Regional theatres will potentially not have work to present as so many shows that were in production were cancelled and never created. Sadly, for theatres, you can’t simply just reopen the doors. Comedians, all of whom are self-employed, will not have gigs all summer and the consumption of content online is expected by so many to be free. For the Fringe, the independent and unsupported sector many spaces may never reopen. Theatre companies may be forced to close. Mid-scale and large-scale touring has been brought to its knees for the foreseeable future. All the freelancers, the majority in this industry which includes performers, technical staff and hospitality staff, will have to find alternative work to
survive. Theatres cannot just reopen their doors and start earning again, it takes months and months of planning and marketing. There is no contingency in this industry. It has been starved of funds for so long that any kind of resilience is non-existent. What makes matters more
difficult is that with staff on furlough and no immediate end in sight, it is impossible to put future seasons of work together or to get tickets on sale. Whilst the furlough is very welcome now and it is protecting jobs, sadly for this industry, it is effectively delaying the problem for several months down the line when we have to go back to work and still have
no income. If we want a theatre industry, even an entertainment at the end of all of this, we are all going to have to support its recovery, in a very substantial way as the losses will be extreme.

With everything that is going on, what do you think makes the arts even more important now? Despite what I have just said, I am an optimist, those who work in the arts generally are. What all of us have clamoured to get hold of during these days of social distancing is creativity and culture, we demand entertainment and we want it immediately. It is these things that will greatly help see us through this. If there is the tiniest silver lining to this terrible storm, then perhaps, we will have proved how vital culture and creativity are to the health and mental wellbeing of our society. We will all appreciate how vital they are to the community alongside good health and good services. Culture is not and has never been a privilege, it should be at the root of our education system and it should be accessible to everyone. Theatre and live performance is essential: being able to gather, to share ideas, to connect in person, is so important to our health and mental wellbeing. Festivals are growing because of this need and I imagine when all of this is over and we do feel safe once again, we will clamour for these places of gathering more. I just hope theatres and the arts are still there when we need them again.

By Emma Clarendon.

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