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Rankin Panel

Rankin Panel

Performance By Rankin Exhibition Now Extended to 12 March 2022

Harriet Hughes

By Harriet Hughes Published 7 January 2022

The Performance By Rankin exhibition has now been extended to 12 March 2022. In this incredible, large-scale project, iconic British photographer Rankin captures the faces of West End talent; chronicling the current moment in our theatre industry.

The exhibition will run until 12 March 2022 and is centrally located at FUJIFILM House of Photography near Leicester Square tube station.

To celebrate the extension we’re sharing the opportunity to watch the panel discussions held back in December 2021. Head of Marketing and Communications at Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre Emma De Souza sits down with Rankin, theatre owner Nica Burns and director Jamie Lloyd to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the theatre industry and what it’s like to be back on stage.

Watch and read the full discussion here:

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Emma De Souza is joined in conversation by photographer Rankin, theatre owner Nica Burns and director Jamie Lloyd.

Emma De Souza

Thank you so much for coming today. Really, it’s so lovely to see everybody and some very familiar faces. I’m joined here by the wonderful Rankin, a globally renowned photographer, just all around an incredible legend.

[Applause]

And then the amazing director, Jamie Lloyd who is absolutely incredible, has the Jamie Lloyd season and company and has really done so much for making theatre more accessible. He’s just genuinely fabulous, aren’t you, really.

[Applause]

And then, Nica Burns who basically throughout the pandemic has saved me on so many occasions really she has been incredible. Some of you might have known that Sonia Friedman was supposed to be doing this but sadly is delayed in New York and so Nica, the guardian angel, that she is, has come in and saved the day.

Nica Burns

I’m Sonia’s understudy!

[Laughter]

Rankin

We’re not saying she’s better, but…

Emma De Souza

No, we’re not. I am a very… I’m a mother of all of these people. I treat everybody fairly, I’m just saying. But very grateful to have Nica. So, thank you so much.

This has been the most amazing project. To have gone through such a tough time as a theatre industry and to come out with something as wonderful as this is truly incredible. The idea behind this, when Hector – who I can see in the audience – first said “Rankin would like to do something with West End theatres” and I was just like, it was in the middle of ping-demic and I was trying to get my head quite around what we would do, because even at that point nothing was open. And for me then, it was actually, this is about capturing the moment of us returning. Because hopefully we will never go into such a long period – I mean, I can’t, anyway just keep everything crossed, I can’t even say the word.

But, to actually have something that celebrates those people who couldn’t go off and have a lucrative Netflix career or doing something, these are the people who this is the bread and butter of what they do. What was amazing about this project was that it exceeded my expectations about actually capturing the real sense of community that theatre is. We so wanted it not to be just about the people on stage, who are hugely important, but also the backstage heroes. We did this test shoot at Rankin Studios. I was quite in awe and quite fazed by dealing with somebody as wonderful as Rankin. And it was so super cool, I thought “I’m so not cool enough for this, at all!” 

Rankin

Not true!

Emma De Souza

[Laughs] Well, we had the amazing Alice Afflick-Mensah, who was the Deputy Head of Sound for Hamilton, and she came in and Rankin, as he has done with every single person that’s been photographed, made them feel so special. And this photo came and she looked absolutely stunning and she turned around to me and said “I feel seen.” And I think for people who have just, you know, it was so tough for so many of us not being able to do what we’ve been trained to do and to have this moment where you have this photograph that makes you just feel that you’re here and you are valid. And so it’s been wonderful. 

But we could not have done this project without some key people, so I have to say the wonderful team at FUJIFILM House of Photography – I’m looking at Gordon, and his wonderful colleagues, everybody here, they have been amazing. They gave us their incredible studio downstairs. They’ve given this incredible space to do the exhibition and have printed the most incredible book which you can all get signed and come here too. And then we also had to find some money because I’m not known for being flash with cash and so we were incredibly lucky that the Mayor of London came on board and was able to support this project and get it off the ground because we really wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. 

It’s been an amazing collaboration. I’ve never worked on something where people have all gone, “Yeah, I get this, I’m gonna come and get to be together.” We’ve had Addison Lee doing cars. We’ve had just all the rail companies now coming on board, all the bids want to do it. And so this project has really been elevated. So, I’m just hugely grateful. It has been a personal, it’s been an absolute privilege working with Rankin and his amazing team, to turn this around as quickly as they have has been amazing. But you don’t want to hear me, let’s talk to Rankin. How was it for you?

Rankin

Oh, wow. Well, I would in fact Emma, before I talk about it – because Emma will never blow her own trumpet. I think everybody that’s ever dealt with Emma in her entire life will tell you she’s one of the most incredible people. I’ve never seen anyone with so much energy and so much positivity. And yes, it has been fantastically positive, but it started with her. Hector went to Emma and the two of them really have driven it. So I have to, I want to give her a round of applause.

[Applause]

And that’s genuine, you know if she was s**t I would probably not be saying it. She’s really the opposite, she’s… everybody in my office is like, “Can we get Emma to come and work with us every day?” Because she is so positive. 

But how was it for me? When hector approached me – Hector’s just over there – it was pre-pandemic. He said, “I’ve got this idea to do a portrait of the West End”. And apart from it being like a ridiculous idea, I was like, “it’s just gonna be too complicated because there’s gonna be so many egos, there’s gonna be lots and lots of conflict”. And I just was like, “I’d love to do it, but it will be a little bit aggy!”

And then the pandemic hit and he came back to me and went, “You know that idea, actually it would be really an important moment”. And when someone says ‘important moment’ I’m like, yeah I can be part of an important moment. I like that idea. So, we were like yeah, no actually this is a good idea. This is one of those ideas that, as Emma said, it will just kind of gather momentum. But the momentum it gathered was like… nuts.

I’ve never been part of anything that not only everybody wanted to be part of – I think without question – I don’t think anyone said no. And also, when we started to shoot, it was like, there was tears and laughter. And it was not just being seen, it was being in real life. Having an interaction, that was just like nothing I’ve ever really felt or done before.

And then the pictures – the people that I met and the pictures – were like bottling this kind of spirit of theatre and live performance. And that’s why I called it ‘Performance’. That is something that… we don’t just like it; we need it. We need it in our lives. We need that physical, in-reality interaction with someone performing for us, or us watching someone perform, or being on the stage performing, or producing it, or directing it. And it’s actually part of our… it’s in our kind of human spirit. It’s in our humanity that we need that. We love storytelling, we need storytelling. And after a year and a half of Netflix and online stuff, I think it’s more important than ever. 

And that’s why I wanted to do it, really. That was the essence of why I wanted to do it. Because I could see that that’s what it was going to be. And it has been that.

Emma De Souza

Brilliant, thank you. And Jamie, I mean you have been photographed, it was brilliant. We had to try and make sure, we had to pick a moment in time and that we picked all the shows that were in that moment. And Jamie, luckily announced his season just in time to get in, which was fantastic.

Jamie Lloyd

Just to be part of the exhibition!

[Laughter]

Emma De Souza

So how was it for you being photographed?

Jamie Lloyd

Being photographed… I mean, look. It’s like, the whole… The reason why everyone was so keen to be, you know, to take part is because Rankin is a legend. I mean the whole West End is buzzing about it. Everyone’s excited, you know, so excited about it. I’m just so grateful that you were up for it. It’s such a major thing. I really can’t thank you enough for putting it all together and agreeing to do it. It’s really awesome. 

Rankin

Did you feel it when you were in the room, though? 

Jamie Lloyd

Yes!

Rankin

Not just me, like the whole… because there’s a lot of overlap, which is always a bit dangerous with actors and producers.

[laughter]

It is, it is!

Jamie Lloyd

I don’t know where this is coming from!

[Laughter]

Rankin

Well, maybe I’m too used to dealing with publicists, then. 

Nica Burns

What we do is about collaboration above all! So whatever argument can stay outside but when you’re in the room…

Jamie Lloyd

There’s a lot of support and a lot of…

Rankin

What I’m saying is, when it came to the shoots, the vibe, the atmosphere was like, ridiculous. 

Nica Burns

It was theatre, that’s the point! You were the theatre too. You were the theatre and we were the performers.

Emma De Souza

So Jamie, because you came in and what was…

Jamie Lloyd

I mean, it was amazing. I mean the thing it was that struck me was that it is so collaborative. I don’t know if people realise this but, I’m sure you do this with everybody, but you empowered everybody to choose the shot that they felt comfortable with. Which is such an unusual thing, you know when you do a photoshoot normally, you have no control over what shot it is you use. 

Rankin

And I almost came out like as doing… because I’ve done it for years, I’ve done it since the 90s. I used to send contact sheets to people and say, “choose your pictures.” But with this I thought, why don’t we make it the thing that we do, because it’s obviously what we all do. And it’s what we all missed as well. Like when I was in lockdown the thing I really missed was that collab, like being in a room with someone but also making something together and like making that and kind of celebrating that. 

Jamie Lloyd

Yeah well, that’s the sign of a true artist, artistry master isn’t it, in terms of having the confidence, the courage to be able to say you know, like it’s a collaboration. This is about us together. This is about empowering the people as you say, like being seen, making that decision. It’s incredibly inspiring, honestly. And it meant that everyone was really happy about it rather than coming and going, oh my God! But it was fun! It was fun and it was quick. You know again, you know what you want and you make it you make them comfortable. And the idea of performing was genius. You know, sometimes we can all take ourselves a bit too seriously and worry about what we look like, what other people think of us. Whereas you just encourage everyone just to kind of play and celebrate the moment. It was brilliant, it’s really thrilling.

Emma De Souza

I have to say Nica, your photo, though I cannot have favourites, because I love everyone individually. 

Rankin

She actually really does love your photo.

Emma De Souza

I do love your photo!

Rankin

She does go on about it.

Emma De Souza

Because your photo, to me, because you have been so positive and upbeat and really the cheerleader for getting us through this. And I felt your photo captured just how hard it has been and it was but also the resilience that was there. So, I don’t know how it was for you, because it did, it made me cry, your photo.

Nica Burns

Well my photo for me is… I find it very hard to look at it, because that isn’t how I usually am. And what happened, because I’m a, you know, a bouncy, upbeat, smiley person. But as I went to meet Rankin and we were all standing there, just before I went to be photographed, someone said to me “how did you feel like, when lockdown happened?” And I had this absolutely deep physical response and actually, I cried. And this big tear came from nowhere and I couldn’t blink it back. And it just made its way down my cheek. 

And at that moment I just thought how tragic the whole thing had been and how hard it had been for everybody in the theatre. How hard it had been for me, trying to keep a fabulous staff team together. All the people in theatres, the technicians and theatre managers who are highly… we need them and they’re really part of the team for everybody. And I just felt my heart just burst really and that was a totally naked expression of what the real toughness was for all of us going through that pandemic. And that was real inner thoughts. And I feel… I look at it, and I feel really naked. And afterwards, you know after that photograph had been taken, Rankin said, “What would you like to do?” And then I did something that was appropriate for me which is I want to punch it away. I needed to punch, that wasn’t the shot that I liked.

But you’re right that particular photograph of myself was a genuine, total expression of the tragedy of our 18 months of closure. Which started off believing that we’d be back quickly, and we just had the heartbreak I had to close one of the best shows I’ve had the privilege of producing, in preview; City of Angels. With the cast and director taking five years to get that cast together. And it was so good in preview, the actors asked if we could bring the press night forward, because they were ready. And we were all setting it up. And then suddenly, closure came. And it was on that Monday when we’d all turned up to perform and Boris had just said don’t go into enclosed spaces. And we didn’t know what that meant. We had to ring up SOLT saying, well, what does that mean? Does that mean we can’t let people in?

Then we got the announcement at nearly six o’clock saying we couldn’t play. The actors were in their dressing rooms, they were doing their work, their warm-up, all their stuff was laid out. The audience was arriving. And we felt absolutely bereft, but we had no idea how long it was going to be and Josie said, “Well you can at least open the bar?” I thought, that’s a really good idea, because the great thing about being the theatre owner is my bar! It’s brilliant!

[Laughter]

And we rang up there, I had another company at the Apollo, the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie company, and we said come down to the Garrick. And, no rules at that time right, no staying away, no masks. By the time we’d been there an hour we were on the phone ordering, we cleaned out Dominos for pizza because people had to start eating or it wasn’t gonna end well. And we literally had it was like, I imagine, just before the war, or before the great depression, when the stock market crashed. No one knew what the day after… We had this sort of impromptu party and as we left we were saying, see you in three weeks!

And the time passed, and we were all desperate and everyone was ringing for information and the actors were saying, can we get the show back up? Okay, yes we’ll get the show back up. And we couldn’t get the show back up. And September came, it was the end of the run, it’s a limited season. And everyone says, when’s it coming back? And all I can say is, it took a long time to get that cast together before, I’m going to have another mountain to climb to make it happen. But it was really special and that was one of the biggest personal heartbreaks for me was losing that show, as it was for all the actors, and Josie. Yeah, because we did good.

Emma De Souza

You did good, it’s hard. I mean just in terms of that, because I think, you know we’re all getting through, well, where we are. But from your point of view, you know, with the pandemic, you did some amazing projects during that time. But it was difficult.

Rankin

Yeah, I mean one of the reasons I wanted to do this is because some of my friends are in live performance. And, you know, I’m a photographer. I can take a camera and photograph anything on my own and that’s essentially what I did. And of course I didn’t have that in real-life experience. But I did turn flowers into kind of characters, and started talking to them. 

[Laughter]

I would blow up dandelions and you know, I was trying to express myself through… it was weird actually, how I expressed myself through photography that I was just doing it for myself. It was probably the first time I’d taken anything for myself, apart from pictures of my dog or my family, for 25 years. That was just for me to stay sane… and start talking to the flowers! So, but we came back. The thing is that photography was really allowed to come back in advertising in July and we were shooting by the end of July. So, you know, we were doing commercials. I think we did 140 shoots during that 12-month period. 

So, I just felt like I owed you know, creatively, to balance the books, to do something that was not just, you know, not just because it’s a great thing to do. But because actually, to celebrate those people that I know. Like my friend who’s a manager of bands and he takes them on tour as a tour manager sometimes. I mean, he was done. He’s only just started working two months ago, and I’ll be talking to him and he was so depressed. And he was, you know, putting a smiley face on it, but actually I could see that he was almost deteriorating because he was losing his… everything about him – his confidence, you know, his mojo. And a few other friends, I could just see that it was being really lost. 

And I really believe in live… I believe in live… everything. I believe, you know, like you’re right; I’ve realised that I’m a performer as much as anything. And being in front of a group of people and performing is such an exciting thing to do but it also makes the work fast. That’s why I do it fast, because it makes it good. You know, like when you do it slow…

Jamie Lloyd

You can think about it too much.

Rankin

I think you can overthink it. Whereas, if you do it fast and really go with your gut, it becomes really a performance and really exciting. So that’s why I did it, because I wanted to kind of take a picture of all the people that I knew hadn’t… And it was, you know, I could have done bands, but actually I think theatre; there’s something special about the West End as well that I think that people don’t realise until it’s gone. And then you’re literally walking around the West End – even when the country was coming back to life, and London, like if you’re in Hampstead it was super busy. You come to the West End, it was dead. And you’re like, the theatre is what people are drawn to. It’s like the honey to the bees, whatever, or the flowers to the bees. So, I wanted that’s why I wanted to do it. And my wife also wanted all the free tickets!

[Laughter]

Emma De Souza

Yeah, I got so many tickets for Rankin and his wife!

Rankin

She got excited about that. So, we’ve got to start going.

Emma De Souza

You have! You’ve got them all lined up. 

Rankin

But I’m just joking, but no. That’s the thing for me. I did stuff and it was very, it was actually kind of good for me in a way to do that.

Emma De Souza

Yeah and, I mean, Jamie from your point of view, I mean you were about to open with Seagull and Emilia Clarke, it was all ready. That must have been quite a difficult process.

Jamie Lloyd

We’ve done the whole, we’ve done the whole rehearsal process with, you know, and tech and dress rehearsals. And we were about to do our theatre preview on the shutdown. So yeah, we’ve never opened. It was very odd because it was like this kind of dark cloud hanging over the theatre. You know, people already started to wear masks. Broadway had shut down. We were going, you know, what was going on?

Nica Burns

I’m so jealous because you got your show up, I hadn’t got mine up yet!

Jamie Lloyd

Yours hadn’t gone up yet!

Rankin

The frustration of it for everyone must have been so difficult to deal with. 

Jamie Lloyd

Yeah, it’s just so peculiar, isn’t it. We will remember. I mean it’s not just this industry is it every industry is kind of dystopian feeling of like, you know. The fear of it, the trauma of it, as you’re describing. But one of the amazing things that I… one of the kind of, obviously there are we have to acknowledge many positives as well, but like what was amazing was this real sense of this kind of interconnected web of a community, you know that this partly represents you know where people were looking out for each other. It was Whatsapp groups and, you know, messaging on Instagram or, you know, like just picking up the phone, calling each other.

There was something kind of amazing about that, you know. This kind of support network of people. And not in a public way – not on Twitter, just quietly, you know. Just checking in on each other. Which I thought was very amazing, you know, really amazing actually. And a real sign of the industry that we belong in. 

Emma De Souza

I think that was it. I mean one of the things we just did was try and just keep everybody informed, we just let anybody take our newsletters because we just wanted people to know what was going on. And I think, I spent so much of my time having meetings where they just listened to my voice. But I just thought, we just need to have the meetings to have this sense of purpose that actually, you know, there was still a validation to what we were doing. And it was… I sort of feel like I’ve worked the hardest but achieved the least. So what’s been so amazing with this project is actually being able to see all that hard work actually result in something so incredible. 

I think one of the things, Rankin, you were talking about, you performing, I think one of the brilliant things for me was watching people who were not used to being in front of the cameras. The people who were on stage, you know, found it very easy to perform. But it was getting from people who were not used to being actually photographed and getting the most out of that. And I thought you were so good at putting people… You know, people come and go “I hate having my photo taken,” and you were brilliant. 

Rankin

I love them the most, though. Do you like your photo, though?

Emma De Souza

I do love my photo, but I hate having my photograph taken. I get really embarrassed and you had to really persuade me. 

Nica Burns

What I love about this book, all these photographs, is that if you came from somewhere where you didn’t go to the theatre and you didn’t actually know our world, when you look at all these shots, what is it that you see? And what I see, trying to stand on the outside, is character, personality and amazing differences. And we bring all this character and personality to each play and each act of performance. And the director moulds it together into a whole. But actually, all these characters are what makes us. And that’s what I think has been portrayed. If you don’t know anyone, if you’re not in the crowd but you love theatre and you actually go through the whole book quickly, you go, that’s the whole world counted up in a book, at a moment in time, for what was on stage at that point. And I think that’s lovely. 

And I love the way you’ve mixed colour and black and white. I don’t know how you chose that, because I was instructed to wear black, which is quite easy during these times anyway. And I noticed that there’s an awful lot of black masks in here but hopefully soon we’ll be able to fling those off when we’re all totally clear out of it in some blue skies as well. Let’s believe it’s going to be there. But that’s what I think is fantastic. It’s just these range of faces and what their eyes and their expressions are saying. When it’s actually put together, it’s also quite poetic.

Rankin

Thank you.

Jamie Lloyd

And amazing that it is, as you say, it’s not just performers. I mean, this is the thing I think, you know, we’re such an interdependent industry, culture. Literally everybody plays a part as a part of that collaboration. It’s so vital, so necessary. There’s no hierarchy. Theatre at it’s best is when it is, as we keep saying, a collaboration. It’s actually a force for good in that way. I think in a way even before the pandemic, it sort of felt like human beings you know, increasingly self-centered, you know, self-involved, isolated, you know, a kind of increasing emphasis on ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Whereas theatre, at its very best is where a community of people of you know, a generational muddle from all walks of life, all lived experiences, can come together, form a new community, make something and experience something truly unique. I think that’s, in a way, probably the sort of sense of our very survival as human beings relies on collaboration and community and compassion for each other, right? I think we’ve learned this during the pandemic – to listen to each other, to hear voices, to be compassionate.

And I think, you know, for that very reason, theatre is a force for good and this is celebrated here. And it’s really exciting for the future.

Emma De Souza

I agree. I think that the thing is that actually it wasn’t it was never about an individual, it was about the collective. And everybody is part of that. And I think theatre as well, what makes London theatre so unique is it’s not just one theatre, it’s so many different theatres. And it’s all that interconnection between the producer, the theatre and the director, everybody. I think that’s what is so important, to celebrate that. 

And then I think with the book – I’m going to give a little bit of a plug for the book because the book is amazing and Rankin’s team are incredible because they turned it around in two days. I mean, it was nuts, we literally did the final two shoots, we were putting up – they were putting, I wasn’t – they were putting up the pictures around us and also signing off the book, which was just incredible. You have just this amazing ability to work out what works well.

But also what’s wonderful in the book, is we interviewed everybody. And so we’ve actually got some of the interviews, when you go around you can share in people’s experience. But people have got quotes in the book which I think really symbolise what their journeys have been, wouldn’t you say?

Rankin 

No, definitely. I mean it’s so poignant, like so much of what people are saying. And I mean, I’ve got to give props to my team because it wasn’t me that did the book, it was them. 

Emma De Souza

Ellen Stone, formidable.

Rankin

But what I really loved about that was it was performance as well, and it was those people that I missed the most when I was in lockdown. So, I can really understand the parallels. Because you are, we are a team like we can’t, you know, the left hand and the right hand have to be in synchronicity or it doesn’t. Even to the way that I shoot, it’s all about almost a kind of exoskeleton of myself working. That was what I really saw in terms of parallel. But yeah, for me, it’s human. And that’s the bit, that I think you need it. 

I didn’t really realise that until we went into lockdown, I was like, I need that human interaction. I’m not a big critic of social media anyway, but I couldn’t deal with it, that was it, where I was going after about, I don’t know about everybody else, but after two months I was like, no more Zoom parties, they’re terrible, they’re awful, I’m sorry. They’re not, you know, they’re just this fabrication and there isn’t really any interaction. And I kept wanting to phone people, I was like can we just do a phone call? Because at least you connect on a phone. And it’s an individual experience. That was the thing that I was really keen on. 

And that’s why I made a big point of it not just being people that perform. Because also, the other thing is we’ve waited for that for so long. And one of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is the celebrity culture has shifted a bit. And it’s not quite as crazy as it was, maybe. We’re a little bit more cynical about it maybe. Which I think is important, I think it’s important to be real. 

Emma De Souza

But looking forward, because this has been a reflection back.

Rankin

Yeah, we’ll just end up talking about the pandemic!

[Laughter]

Emma De Souza

But I think what also comes across to me is just the hope and excitement and the resilience of these photos. And I think what would be brilliant is sort of looking at, you know, you have just announced your new season so what are you looking forward to?

Jamie Lloyd

Well I think, you know, the truth is that I think the single most important conversation that has been had in this pandemic is about social and racial inequity. And therefore, I think that it’s really really important and that conversation continues. In a very meaningful and long-lasting way. I think there’s huge possibilities for that in terms of going deeper, in terms of… I keep you know, wanting to talk to other arts, white arts leaders, in terms of this is not a box-ticking exercise. This is actually really truly exciting. 

I’m thrilled that Cyrano is coming back. Cyrano is an example of when you have a group of people from literally all lived experiences in that room you know, seeing the world in different ways, experiencing the world in different ways, you know. Bringing so much of themselves, their entire selves into the room. 

Rankin

And it makes it better, right?

Jamie Lloyd

It can only make the work better – more exciting, more dynamic, exactly. And everybody benefits. And it’s not just about casting, it’s about who the storytellers are, what the stories are, how they’re told. I mean it’s like really big deep significant work that needs to continue, but ultimately I do think that’s incredibly positive, as I say this kind of, like this blank space for new possibilities and, you know, I think can only be exciting. 

And also playing with form. How we make theatre, what theatre looks like and it feels like. And draws from, you know, even from photography, the digital world, from technology, from fine arts, from video games, rock and roll, hip hop, spoken word. I mean, you know, we’re moving on into something completely new and a lot of the thinking that from the space and time of the pandemic will I think influence theatre to come. You know, lots of really interesting, like kind of off-kilter, interesting ideas. Which we may not see right now, but I think we will in the future. Just different ways of thinking about things.

Rankin

I think it’s a reset, isn’t it. I think it’s really cool. 

Jamie Lloyd

If we do the work and we keep going with positivity, and we make it happen. 

Emma De Souza

The future is bright. 

Jamie Lloyd

I think it could be you know we’ve got to be you know we’ve got to be determined to keep going and have those conversations, for sure.

And so Nica, from your point… from we are supposed to be we’re going to be very good on timing I tell you, because we’ve got to go to The Drifters tonight, which is opening. 

Nica Burns

Well I think the good thing is, well I’m coming from a different perspective because I get to see lots of audiences coming in. And I can say that my six theatres are absolutely joyfully packed, and it is like they’re coming back in. And they’re going, “it’s live, we missed it, we’re going to have a great time!” As a collective, they are so up for it. Often before, when we were in our usual lives in 2020, people would come to the theatre and they’d bring their bad day with them, or the row they’d had, or the fact they were tired, or all of those things. Right now really, thinking about Cabaret, they are leaving their troubles outside! And they’re coming inside for us to give them a great night and for them to enjoy it together. And enjoy having these other people, collectively. They bring all this energy into the room. And guess what the actors are lapping that up and together the collaboration right now between audiences and performers is absolutely sky high. And the energy is just rippling through that theatre.

So, the audiences are giving the actors not just hope, but appreciation because the atmosphere is so fantastically alive. And they’re ready, they’re ready to come back. I’d say anyone who feels nervous, don’t come back yet, wait till you are. But there are enough people who really want to come back, really are coming back. And they’re leaving and I literally watch them skipping down the road, they’re happy. And with your shows, you’re doing something that is visceral. 

Jamie Lloyd

I don’t mind skipping as well, I can skip as well, they can skip as well!

Nica Burns

Well let’s skip together!

Emma De Souza

Jamie loves skipping everybody, I’m just saying. 

Nica Burns

So, I do think the future looks great because it’s like all things in life, when something is taken away. And you, I feel that the country, and certainly nearly everyone in the theatre was lost. Because what we do can’t be replicated at home, because we need the collaboration and we need the audiences too. And we fill the space with lots of other things but it’s a vocation, right. It’s not just a way to earn a living. It’s something that comes deep down here and comes out to the audience and to each other.

So, I think that we’re going to have this period where the appreciation of live theatre… and the one really good thing for me that came out, was the day when we were talking about when reopening the theatres again, was hearing Boris Johnson say “theatre is really important to the economy” and it was really important and yes, we do pay our way. And I hadn’t heard that from a Prime Minister for… ever, I think. So, just for once, thank you! I felt that we were appreciated as an industry. And all I can say is, about time too!

Rankin

The first honest thing he’s said for a long time. 

[Laughter and applause]

Emma De Souza

Before we get really political, this is brilliant, I’m going to wind it up. I would really encourage people to buy the book. Rankin is going to be signing them and all proceeds in the book are going to, basically, the Theatre Artists Fund. So, during the pandemic Sam Mendes, with our support set up an emergency fund for theatre workers and many of the people here actually benefited from that fund, because there are people like, you know the wonderful Hannah – I can’t see her now – from Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) who literally was working in a green grocer’s. And so to go from that to the West End stage is just… she still can’t get her head around it. But it was just so many people like Bradley Jaden, there’s lovely Bradley, who was working in construction, you know, from lead at Les Mis. So, it’s been such a journey for everybody but so lovely to have them back. So, this book, proceeds go to Theatre Artists Fund. And then also the Mayor’s youth homeless charities. So please do buy it because it’s wonderful, it takes this exhibition to another level. 

But we also really hope that this whole experience inspires you to come and see theatre, come and see a show because there’s so many wonderful, wonderful plays on. And it’s just wonderful to be back on stage. 

But thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else that my wonderful panel wants to say? But thank you, amazing panel and thank you to all the shows, all the producers, all the theatre owners, all the makeup artists who came, the company managers.

Rankin

Yeah, they were amazing.

Emma De Souza

They were unsung heroes, but company managers, make up artists, were just brilliant and the wardrobe people. I never really had a proper thing for them to hang stuff on. We got there in the end even, if I was holding it myself! But thank you so much everybody. I really appreciate it.

[Applause]

Emma De Souza

Thank you, we’ve got to go to the theatre now, because we’re practicing what we preach. But thank you very much. Thank you so much, that was wonderful. Thank you.

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