Oldham Coliseum’s stage will light up again once crisis is over

OLDHAM Coliseum Theatre closed its doors on Monday, March 16 due to the coronavirus outbreak – but they will be ready to take centre stage once more when the times comes.

Chris Lawson, Artistic Director, and Susan Wildman, Chief Executive, reflect on the current situation and times ahead.

No-one knows how long our society will be battling coronavirus but what we do know is that art is as important as ever, providing a form of escapism, reflection and a connection to others.

On Monday, March 16 we closed the Coliseum’s building on Fairbottom Street with immediate effect, following the Government’s advice that people should avoid public buildings.

Since then, and during the subsequent UK lockdown, we’ve been considering what that means for our audiences and our current programme of work.

It is with heavy hearts that we have decided to postpone, or cancel if absolutely necessary, all forthcoming events in our building before the end of August 2020.

We have also cancelled our co-production of the pop-up theatre Roundabout, with Paines Plough and York Theatre Royal, which was due to pop up outside Oldham’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June and July.

These decisions have been made with the wellbeing of our communities, audiences, staff, artists, and our theatre’s great legacy at the forefront.

Right now, we are planning to open our new Autumn-Winter season in September with our annual Cultivate Festival, rescheduled from June, followed by our production of Lee Hall’s Cooking With Elvis which remains on sale and on its previously-advertised dates.

We’ve now confirmed new dates for The Jungle Book for Easter 2021, and we’re working to reschedule the rest of our Spring-Summer 2020 season wherever possible.

Our physical stages may be dark but we believe it’s vital that we continue to serve our audiences and communities during this difficult time.

We’ve already begun creating and sharing art digitally with the launch of our new Mini-Podcast Series on World Theatre Day, and we have many more plans and opportunities in the works, collaborating with other organisations in Oldham, the North West and nationally.

We know there are many people who have a long-standing relationship with the Coliseum but don’t use digital technology to engage with the theatre, and so we’re also considering new ways that we can continue to connect with them while the building is closed.

Our regular groups are moving online. In place of our usual sessions we’re implementing a programme of activity to use this unprecedented experience as a spark for creativity, and our most vulnerable participants are receiving regular phone calls in place of their regular social activities to help prevent loneliness and offer support.

The Coliseum also works with more than 15 local secondary schools and colleges across Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside, using drama as a tool for learning as well as teaching theatre practice.

Although the methods through which we are delivering our service has changed, we’re quickly putting new plans into action to continue engaging with these students.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre has been serving Oldham and its communities for 135 years and has only closed once before.

In 1939 it was a group of passionate theatre lovers, the Oldham Repertory Theatre Club, that brought our theatre back to life and it will be passionate theatre lovers of all ages and backgrounds that will keep theatre alive in Oldham during this crisis.

We are incredibly grateful to Arts Council England, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Oldham Council for the lifeline of support they have offered. We also thank each and every one of our audiences, participants, partners, patrons and sponsors for their generosity and patience during this time.

Without events and ticket sales, maintaining our business is very difficult. Like many theatres, we have set up a campaign to ask people who love the Coliseum as we do to consider donating all or part of their ticket costs for any cancelled events, or donate online to help support the theatre if they are able to at this difficult time, or simply help us by sharing our message.  #YourColiseumNeedsYou

Our small but dedicated team is contacting ticket holders with rescheduled dates and information. If you have tickets for any events before the end of August please bear with us and don’t try and call us.

We’re not able to operate in our usual way at the moment so it may take us some time to contact everyone but we’re working to ensure this happens as quickly as possible.

We’re already looking forward to welcoming our audiences back into the Coliseum in the Autumn. Until then stay safe, stay home, keep an eye out for our next announcement and keep in touch.

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