Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon spoke to Artistic Director of the Park Theatre Jez Bond about the newly announced Park Life fund raising scheme.

Hi Jez, first of all how are you coping with lockdown? I’ve got my toilet paper, my yeast and I’m shaming sunbathers: isn’t that what we’re all doing? Come on, though – this shaming and snitching that’s erupted is really vile: that’s not the best of British. Who’s to say the family lying on the grass far away from anyone because they live together in a one bedroom flat with no outside space shouldn’t be there. And who’s to say someone’s purchase of a bag of compost isn’t vital for their mental health, perhaps that’s the one thing that keeps them going. I’m coping fine – but I’m one of the lucky ones. Life is different for so many people right now. This concept of everyone being “in the same boat” is simply not true. As I’m sure is anyone who runs a charity, at the moment I’m working as hard as ever.

It’s such a difficult time for everyone how do you think this will change the theatre industry? From 2021 there will be no actors, only avatars – and plays will be written by bots. No, of course the great thing – the best thing? – THE thing – about theatre is its absolute live immediacy; the magic of being in the same room as the characters on stage. So theatre will live on, and it always has, with perhaps a renewed vigour and extra spark when faced with troubled times. The issue of course is one of funding and in an industry that, on the smaller scale like Park Theatre, needs to raise money in a good year, the onset of the pandemic is catastrophic. We must ensure we protect our smaller creative institutions who will be most at risk – unless we’re happy with an offering of juke box musicals for the rest of eternity. Because aside from the support that these companies and buildings provide to the commercial sector, by being the training ground for talent and the breeding ground for new plays and ideas, and aside from the huge resultant contribution the UK arts scene brings to the economy, a theatre like Park Theatre is much more than simply a series of shows: it’s a community hub, a safe neighbourhood space, a group of passionate people that engage with people young and old through community outreach work, often working with those forgotten by other areas of society. 

Could you tell me more about the Park Life fundraising scheme? Yes. The money we raised prior to launching the Park Life fund will ensure that we can survive in some form through til the Spring of next year, which is currently our worst case in terms of our scenario planning. But survival is not enough – even though it means we can (and have) furlough the majority of staff, we would return severely wounded: unable to operate all areas of our work. Community engagement would suffer, as would our access provision, and quite simply we wouldn’t afford to produce any of our own work or develop any new plays or talent. We need to come back as strong as we were to be there for you, our community, when the new normal kicks in. So this fund is to enable those who want to throw in any amount to the pot to help us grow strong once more. 

Congratulations for managing to raise £300,000 in 48 hours – how did you manage to do that? A balaclava, a high quality stethoscope and a hell of a load of YouTube tutorials. Sorry, that’s my next play! The truth is that I have been utterly humbled by the outpouring of support. At a time when we were facing some really tough decisions I got on the phone to every single donor past and present, anyone who had been a Friend of the theatre, who had attended a gala, bought an auction prize etc… and explained the situation. By reaching out personally and taking the time to explain our situation, honestly, transparently and often in some depth, people responded extremely positively. 

What can people do to try and keep supporting theatre while all venues are shut? You can buy balaclavas and stethoscopes online (cheaper than toilet paper) and head to www.youtu… Hold on, I’m not really asking anyone to rob a bank on our behalf! But that is the reality, it’s money that we need to stay afloat during this time. That is unequivocally the most important thing. I know some venues are releasing digital content and I imagine a lot of people are interested in keeping in touch in this way. We’re ensuring that at the very least we have a social media presence with any updates with games, fun facts and old photos to keep people engaged. It’s a terrible time for so many and if people can’t afford to donate now then just try and support us by attending the shows, and spreading the word, when we reopen. 

What are you missing the most about the Park Theatre? The team and the buzz. We have a great family atmosphere about the building. Any new company that comes in has a Meet & Greet so we can all get to know each other. The day we closed we had two shows running and one in rehearsals, so that’s three companies with us sharing the building and there was a hive of activity. Now when I walk into the building every few days to do a check, it’s like ghost ship. I miss that energy and I look forward to feeling it again soon! 

How can people donate to the Park Life scheme?  donation to our ParkLife fund, however large or small, will go a long way to support us and enable us to come back as strong as we were. Simply click here to donate on our GoFundMe page

By Emma Clarendon