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Local people: Curve

22nd September 2020

Chris Stafford and Nikolai Foster are respectively the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Leicester’s Curve, one of the most innovative and inspiring theatres in the UK. In this most challenging year for the arts, Chris and Nikolai discuss their responses to closure and strategies for welcoming audiences back to Curve

Words: Amander Meade  Photography by Ellie Kurttz

What were your immediate thoughts when Boris closed the theatres?   

It was truly heart-breaking to close our doors back in March, not only because of the brilliant productions due to appear on our stages (we were opening a new tour of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Sister Act’ and ‘Grease’ had just started rehearsals, and ‘Maggie May’ and ‘I Think We Are Alone’ were both on tour), but also because Curve is a community building. Every week countless gatherings, workshops and classes take place here.

We were faced with the monumental task of contacting all customers affected by our closure, rescheduling upcoming shows and, unfortunately, cancelling some productions. We began devising creative ways in which we could keep people engaged and entertained online instead.

What did you do in the lockdown period? 

We immediately began creating and sharing a range of online content from children’s activity packs to archive recordings of our Made at Curve productions, in-depth interviews with leading theatre-makers, special digital commissions with local artists, and more. All of the content has been available for free, so everyone can access and enjoy the work we’ve shared.

It’s been heartening to see so many people engaging with the digital work – those who might have missed out on seeing a production live on our stages can now experience the piece at home and support us in the process. It’s also been thrilling to see people tuning in from all over the world, and we’re so proud to have flown the flag for Curve and Leicester in six continents – just Antarctica to go!

We’ve also arranged and hosted a number of online sessions for industry friends and colleagues in order to plan vital support going forwards and help rebuild our sector for all.

What is the longer-term effect of Covid-19 going to be on regional theatre?

All theatres across the country are working in extremely challenging circumstances, and it’s difficult to know exactly what lies ahead. That said, this industry is filled with the most extraordinarily talented, hard-working people, who are dedicated to making sure audiences are able to access arts and culture. In the long term, regional theatres will play a very important role in revitalising the sector and providing a further boost to our economy.

What are the plans moving forwards – through autumn and into the Christmas period?

Currently all shows for 2020 have been cancelled or postponed, including our Christmas production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, which has now moved to Christmas 2021.

How supportive have Curve audiences been throughout?

Undoubtedly our audiences are THE best one could ever ask for. The support from our communities, audiences and artists has been phenomenal, and the kind messages, donations and creative contributions we have received have kept every single member of Team Curve going over the last few months.

What can readers do to support Curve to ensure its long-term future? 

Everyone can use their voice to raise awareness of the devastating effects the current situation is having on arts and culture across the UK. Writing to your MP to state your support for all those in the industry, sharing content on social media or simply talking about Curve and theatre with friends and family – keeping us front of mind is crucial for our future.

Of course, donations are gratefully received at this time, but we understand that times are difficult for many. If you are able to give, however large or small, you will be able to do so on our website.

Personally, what positives have you taken from 2020?

We’ve been reminded what Curve means to people and how our lives would be much less rich without it. Having such a clear goal fighting for our survival has been a positive, galvanising force.

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