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‘People have to feel safe’ - theatre boss on plans for life after lockdown

PUBLISHED: 11:23 13 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:23 13 June 2020

Lee Johnson, operations manager at Diss Corn Hall, has been discussing the challenges of the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Sonya Duncan/Courtesy of Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson, operations manager at Diss Corn Hall, has been discussing the challenges of the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Sonya Duncan/Courtesy of Lee Johnson

Sonya Duncan/Courtesy of Lee Johnson

A theatre boss has detailed the challenges of the coronavirus crisis and revealed plans for life after lockdown.

Diss Corn Hall has been making plans for life after the coronavirus lockdown has been lifted. Picture: Diss Corn HallDiss Corn Hall has been making plans for life after the coronavirus lockdown has been lifted. Picture: Diss Corn Hall

Like dozens of other entertainmet venues across Norfolk and Waveney, Diss Corn Hall was forced to shut after a widespread lockdown was announced in March.

Having sold 24,000 tickets in 2019, the arts hub was coming off the back of a successful year and had enjoyed a strong start to 2020.

But with its reliance on box offices sales, COVID-19’s unprecedented impact has left the Corn Hall with no means of income and lingering uncertainty over its future.

Lee Johnson, operations manager at Diss Corn Hall, has been discussing the impact of coronavirus lockdown on the venue. Picture: Courtesy of Lee JohnsonLee Johnson, operations manager at Diss Corn Hall, has been discussing the impact of coronavirus lockdown on the venue. Picture: Courtesy of Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson, the venue’s operations manager, said survival had become a genuine concern.

“Initially we started cancelling shows, but the gallery and cafe remained open,” said Mr Johnson. “At that point there was still a small footfall, but we knew what was going to happen.

“Obviously we saw the full closure coming, but to go from 24,000 sales to zero overnight was a massive worry. It’s something we’ve had to adjust to very quickly.”

Diss Corn Hall has been making plans for life after the coronavirus lockdown has been lifted. Picture: Diss Corn HallDiss Corn Hall has been making plans for life after the coronavirus lockdown has been lifted. Picture: Diss Corn Hall

Almost three months of closure has given staff plenty of time to consider what a post-lockdown Corn Hall may look like, but a date for the reopening of theatres and cinemas remains unclear.

Safety measures including a one-way system and colour-coded ticketing are in the pipeline, but the venue is eagerly awaiting further updates from the government on social distancing guidelines.

According to estimates, the 300-capacity hall could seat just 60 people if the two-metre rule remains, although a one-metre rule could see 150 accommodated - a “step in the right direction”, says Mr Johnson.

Diss Corn Hall has been discussing the challenges of the coronavirus crisis - and looking ahead to life after lockdown. Picture: Diss Corn HallDiss Corn Hall has been discussing the challenges of the coronavirus crisis - and looking ahead to life after lockdown. Picture: Diss Corn Hall

“We are having continued conversations about how we are going to be financially viable when we do reopen,” he added.

“I would personally not have an issue with going to a theatre and sitting next to someone, but I’m fully aware that others do not feel the same and have concerns.

“We’re fortunate to have a strong volunteer pool, but most are retired and over 70. While they are champing at the bit to get back, the venue must be COVID-compliant.

Diss Corn Hall has been discussing the challenges of the coronavirus crisis - and looking ahead to life after lockdown. Picture: Diss Corn HallDiss Corn Hall has been discussing the challenges of the coronavirus crisis - and looking ahead to life after lockdown. Picture: Diss Corn Hall

“It’s all very well opening theatres, but people have to be confident about coming back. People have to feel safe when they come to a venue and, if they do, others will follow suit.”


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