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The Snow Queen, Hertford Theatre, 2019 (Photo credit: James Leask Frazer - area1Photography)

From Covid Closure to Christmas Magic: How Hertford Theatre coped with Covid-19

By Rebecca Butcher at Hertford Theatre First Published 30 November 2020, Last Updated 2 December 2020

Celebrating Past, Present and Evolution: How a regional theatre coped with COVID-19

Once upon a time, 10 years ago, to be exact, in a town not so very far away, there was a venue who grew up to become Hertford Theatre. Hertford Theatre grew and extended arms around anyone who wanted somewhere safe, happy and engaging to belong. From families embarking on their first taste of theatre to culture hungry individuals, ready for fringe theatre and comedy, Hertford Theatre let their community know that there was a seat for them in the building.

The walls were filled with laughter, meaningful conversations, creativity, new parents, young performers and retired volunteers, the smell of good coffee and a desire to bring quality theatre and cinema to everyone. Over the 10 years, there have been star-studded children’s book and arts festivals, enchanting in-house Christmas shows and pantos produced by a fantastic team of creatives, crew and written and directed by our very own Rhys Thomas, World Mental Health Days, fringe theatre and modern dance, pushing the boundaries of subject and technique and sold-out comedy shows that broke the website!

There’s been familiar faces from the TV and film world on our stage, alongside familiar faces from Hertford town, all doing what they love. Thousands of children have had the opportunity to perform on our stage, take classes in our studio, build confidence and ignite their love in the arts and our team have met all the challenges along the way, whilst forging wonderful relationships across the industry and local area to pull in new audiences from schools, care homes, specialist units and more.

The windows of Hertford Theatre adorned with hugs

Hertford Theatre was really looking forward to celebrating 10 years of truly inspiring work. It was excited about a future that would see it evolve into something bigger. In 2021, Hertford Theatre will be closing its doors and work will commence on a wonderful Growth & Legacy Project for future generations. 2020 was going to be a year of celebration, ahead of this massive milestone and investment in the arts.

In March, Bill Bailey visited Hertford Theatre, and little did we know that he would be our last live performance for a while… Suddenly, a nasty villain entered the stage and reared its horrible head to the whole world.

COVID-19 forced the doors shut. It kept audiences away from their theatre and staff and performers away from their jobs. The stage was quiet. The café was empty.

But Hertford Theatre was determined to emerge on the other side. It had to. Hug Hertford Theatre was born out of the messages of support sent in from the public and it became a symbol of hope for the town, a symbol that the arts would survive and captured how Hertford felt about their theatre, their cinema. It is a place they create happy memories in, a place where they belong, have pride in and above all, appreciate the importance of. Spotting familiar faces in the windows, of family, friends and celebrities allowed those passing by to have a connection with the parts of their life that were currently out of reach.

Hertford Theatre’s doors may have been shut, but there were plenty of people making the pilgrimage from around the county to see the windows.

The success of Hug Hertford Theatre was overwhelming, but it spurred us on. We made sure we could open our cinema as soon as possible. We owed it to our community to give them back something at a time when so much had been taken away. Hertford Theatre became a COVID secure venue, and although it was very different, it struggled through the next few months, determined to keep their spirit alive. When the news came that panto could not happen this year, Hertford Theatre’s heart broke a little bit more, until some previous cast members got in touch to see if they could perform on our stage. Hertford Theatre loves supporting friends, old and new and was thrilled when The Music of Christmas sold out; meaning that performers could get back doing what they loved and the theatre could support them! We have joined forces with some massive names that have visited Hertford Theatre to produce short videos of support, which we will share across our social media pages.

Hertford Theatre’s sell-out Christmas show starring performers from their most loved pantos!

We’ve just been awarded funding for new education and outreach work from Arts Council England and Royal Opera House Bridge, as we look towards 2021 and the start of our huge Growth & Legacy Project, which will see us grow into a larger auditorium, smaller studio spaces and 3 new cinema screens. We believe we can be a beacon of hope and survival for all other theatres and venues that have struggled through 2020 and are still having to keep their doors shut.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show playing at Hertford Theatre in December (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Please join us in celebrating how far we’ve come in 10 years and a future that sees us welcoming familiar faces back into our building, setting the stage for a new generation of performers, dancers and comedians to be nurtured and discovered and signalling that the arts will thrive again.

Click the button below to find out more about Hertford Theatre and what’s on next month.

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We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

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While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.