LONDON – Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Nicolette Jones went to the theater with her daughter about 50 times a year.
Now she is not at all. âThe theater is my relaxation, my escape,â said Jones, 61. âThe idea of ââsitting next to someone who’s unmasked for two hours, laughing and whatever it is, that will take all of that away,â she added.
Theaters here have now been allowed to open unrestricted for three months, and while many members of the audience have been delighted to return to live performances, inconsistent rules are baffling some fans.
Unlike Broadway, theatergoers in England are not required to wear masks on their seats or be fully vaccinated. Instead, it’s up to each site to decide what they need. Most West End sites ask for proof of vaccination or a negative test result at the gate, but some smaller sites do not. Onlookers are also encouraged to wear masks, but many are choosing not to do so, even as the number of cases of the virus in Britain is steadily increasing.
What do theater fans think of this new normal? Has the pandemic changed what they see and how they see it?
We spoke to seven other theater enthusiasts to find out. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.
Robbie Curran, 29
Actor and writer
I mainly go to the marginal theater. The best moment so far was probably in “The NW Trilogy” at The Kiln, these three plays about immigrants from North West London.
In the end, the whole cast gathered with banners and marched. And he had such a high energy and pulse that I turned to my partner and she said, âWow, we missed that! These are the moments of true connection and catharsis that we missed in confinement.
In the small sites, no one is asked to check the status of the vaccines or anything like that. They’re probably just trying to get their audience back, so keep believing that everyone is doing their best.
With masks, it’s different every night. Sometimes a person wears a mask, sometimes half the public wears it; sometimes no masks, sometimes all masks.
Fazilet Hadi, 64 years old
Works for an association of disabled people
I hate to admit it – some of my friends would be horrified – but I didn’t wear a mask. I do not know why. I guess because I’m blind I can’t see who’s wearing them and who isn’t, so in my little world no one is wearing them! Nobody told me anything.
I’m not worried about Covid, really. We all have different levels of risk.
I went to “Twelfth Night” at the Globe, with audio description, and it was so good. There was no interval and I thought, âOh my God, two hours 40 minutes without a break! But he flew by.
I have three other reserved rooms. What the Covid has done to me is just clarifying what I like to do, increasing the fun. It might fade away, but it’s not yet.
Nikki Reilly, 46, and Izzy Reilly, 15
Mathematics and computer science teacher; student
Nikki: Going to the theater has always been expensive, but we found this app where you can buy urgent tickets the same day, and because a lot of people are not ready to go back yet, and there is no influx tourists that you normally receive in London. We saw âHeathersâ one day, and we saw âCome From Awayâ in the stands for just Â£ 25 ($ 34). Normally that would be Â£ 150!
Izzy: I feel like I have so much more agency to see the things I want. I can say, “Can we see this? and normally we can.
Nikki: We have been to the West End six times. As soon as there are new people, we’ll probably go back to the local theaters. Izzy is at school and I’m a teacher, so maybe we’re more used to being around large groups of people: we didn’t care about Covid. And everyone wears masks. What bothers me the most is going to the movies: people who don’t wear masks on the train, the tube, especially if they’re sick and have a cough. This Is concerns me.
Before Covid, I went to the theater all the time. But tomorrow is my first trip. I am going to see “Wuthering Heights” at the Bristol Old Vic, and I specifically booked it as it is socially remote. We are lucky where I live, a few theaters still do performances from a distance.
I just wasn’t ready until now. I went to an event in August and it really freaked me out: about 400 people, no distancing and I was one of about six people wearing a mask. A few days later, a friend texted me to tell me they had the Covid. I didn’t feel relaxed at all. Every time I heard a coughâ¦ It was a lot.
I chose “Wuthering Heights” because I love Wise Children, the company that does it. If you’re going to get into anxiety, this should be something you know you’ll enjoy.
20, Theater YouTuber
I used to see a few shows over and over again: “Six” and “& Juliet”. But when the theater wasn’t there, it sparked a passion for shows that I hadn’t seen, so I tried to really branch out. It’s still mostly musicals, but I love them.
âFrozenâ was absolutely amazing, especially seeing the younger generation in the audience and their eyes light up, like mine did at that age. At the end of “Let It Go”, I almost cried. The diversity on the whole was also very inspiring.
In confinement, when I couldn’t express my passion for the theater, it was really difficult. I hadn’t realized how much I relied on it to express who I was.
When theaters reopened I got so many comments from people on my channel saying “I want to go to a show, but I’m afraid it’s not safe.” So I started using my blogs to show that there were things in place to keep people safe and how people can do things on their own like a home test. Now I get all these comments saying, âBecause of you, I feel safe enough to go. “
StÃ©phanie Kempson, 34 years old
I’m a theater director so I need to see some work, but I got nervous because people stopped wearing masks this fall.
I tried to get favors so I could rehearse to see things, and I try to watch live broadcasts, but often only one performance in a race is shown live now.
Socially distanced performances are therefore the way to go for me. I have ME / CFS so I am aware of the duration of Covid.
People are so excited to be back and I can forgive them for it, but there seems to be a lack of awareness and common spirit.