A year since closing their doors to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, theatres and arts centres across Wales are supporting a national #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign, launched by development agency Creu Cymru.
On March the 16th 2020, a week before the UK-wide lockdown, theatres and entertainment venues across Wales were forced to close to the public. Although other sectors have seen lockdown measures eased for short periods of time, these Welsh venues have not yet been able to reopen. One year on, Creu Cymru, the development agency for theatres and arts centres in Wales, has launched the #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign to highlight how much they miss the audience, the performers and the staff.
Despite venues being closed to the general public, they have not been left empty during this challenging period for the arts; for many the show has gone on, supporting local communities and moving performances and outreach activities online.
“Theatres and arts centres play a vital role in the arts economy in Wales,” said Creu Cymru Director Louise Miles-Payne. “From small studios to big-budget stages, theatre and the performing arts are part of the fabric of Welsh life. Towns, villages and cities the breadth of Wales have and use theatres for more than seeing a show – they are spaces for many different groups in the community to come together to learn, socialise and create.”
Centres across Wales have remained exceedingly busy and the examples of activities offered are vast and impressive. Span Arts created Theatr Soffa for live music performances, community plays and singing workshops, whilst Blackwood Miners’ Institute staff delivered free school meals and worked on Track and Trace. The Sherman Theatre in Cardiff made Open Platform showcases for Black and LGBTQIA+ artists, offered free workshops for freelancers to develop new skills and helped students from The College Merthyr Tydfil to create intergenerational audio drama from real life stories told by the residents of a care home. RCT Theatres offered paid work to one hundred freelance artists, and Congress Theatre have filmed a professional pantomime to be screened over Easter.
As well as recording Christmas and Saint David’s Day concerts for care home residents, Ffwrnes Theatre in Llanelli has played an important part in the response to the coronavirus pandemic by becoming a Mass Vaccination Centre. The Welfare in Ystradgynlais also supported the NHS as a COVID-19 testing centre, local vaccination clinic and hub for the Welsh Blood Service whilst developing a co-production with Deaf and Fabulous Productions, Flossy and Boo and Y Consortiwm Cymraeg. Similarly, Venue Cymru in Llandudno transformed into Ysbyty Enfys in April 2020 and has become central to the local vaccination programme, having vaccinated almost 50,000 people so far.
“Although our building is supporting NHS Wales, we have still been busy reaching new audiences, with much of our work now delivered digitally,” said Sarah Ecob, Head of Economy and Culture for Conwy County Borough Council. “Venue Cymru’s annual take pART event will be delivered digitally throughout March and April. Canu Conwy, Venue Cymru’s staff choir, teamed up with Welsh National Opera and staff from NHS Wales to record their version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Our technical crew were also sourced by ITV to assist with I’m a Celebrity at Gwrych castle. At the same time, Venue Cymru arranged a community project in the town which included an arts installation with Small World Theatre featuring giant bugs on buildings and haunted lady ghosts, and a photography exhibition entitled ‘Celebrity Town’ featuring many community figures”.
For now, Aberystwyth Arts Centre has become a coronavirus testing centre and moved many of their creative learning classes onto virtual platforms, but they are also preparing for when they can reopen. “It was important to give visual artists an opportunity to respond to the pandemic, and an Open Call for ‘Oriel Lockdown’ has resulted in over a thousand entries – we will be showing every one of them once we are able to reopen,” said the centre’s director, Dafydd Rhys.
For Theatr Felinfach, the past twelve months have been particularly eventful. “We established a digital platform for our work called Dychmygus / Imagine, which has hosted a variety of projects including a digital version of our famous Welsh language pantomime,” said Dwynwen Lloyd Llywelyn, head of the theatre. “We also established a multi-partner festival and we even gave Santa and Mrs Santa a hand to bring a message to all the children of Ceredigion.”
National Dance Company Wales were part of the first live-streamed ballet class in conjunction with the BBC. Their Dance for Parkinson’s classes went online, and they produced eight short films with Literature Wales. In her #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat social media post, National Dance Company Wales dancer Elena Sgarbi said “What I miss the most about performing on stage is that moment before the curtain opens, and we hear the audience coming in and the excitement of the dancers. I really miss that.”
As part of the #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat campaign, theatres and arts centres across Wales were lit up in the colours of the rainbow on the 16th of March 2021 as a sign of hope, as they continue their preparations to open their doors to the public as soon as they are allowed to do so.
“Theatres are often the heartbeat of the local community. They bring people together to laugh, cry, rejoice and learn. They have continued to do this during this uncertain time. We’ve been working closely with Welsh Government Officials and the Deputy Minister on the safe reopening of our theatres. We hope that this will be allowed soon when the situation improves,” said Miles-Payne of Creu Cymru.
To join in with Creu Cymru’s campaign, search for #WeMissYou #HiraethuAmdanat on social media.
Header image: Venue Cymru/Ysbyty Enfys (Llandudno)