So, you haven’t been to a live venue since February? OK, it’s time to dust down your shoes, pack your picnic hamper, and head up Dyke Road. Yes, Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) is one of the first venues in the area to reopen for live theatre and music.
First, we speak to Will Mytum, general manager at BOAT, to hear how they have survived and reshaped the venue to deal with the new normal in this Covid pandemic era. Second, we dip into the music and stage events happening over August and, third, we hear from Sarah Slator of This is my Theatre, who’s got plenty of form in directing outdoor theatre.
Will points out, “we’re in a lucky position – with an open air venue and a stage that is huge”. People can get in or out – and get to the toilets – via a one-way system. Meanwhile, the venue can also accommodate groups that are isolating together as it is easy to adjust the seating area.
They have also introduced a staggered entrance to avoid bunching; reduced capacity; put sanitisers everywhere and introduced Personal Protection Equipment for all volunteers and staff. They’ve gone for card payments only. Advance booking is recommended to avoid queues at the entrance where track and trace methods have been introduced. There’s been a full risk assessment.
So how have BOAT, registered as a charity, survived economically? They have been fortunate in that salary costs are fairly low and Will is the only full-time member of staff. BOAT have arranged fundraising events but their business model also runs on the basis that – as an open air venue in Britain – they will only be open five months of the year. They used some of their financial reserves and Brighton Council, the landlord for the site, had been supportive and also offered a small discretionary grant.
Some things haven’t changed. As Will pointed out, other advantages to the open air theatre have stayed the same. People can still “bring a picnic, buy drinks, hear birdsong and see the sun set”.
But let’s get to the action! What about the music and theatre?
There’s only space here to point out a few of the music events. So, earlier this month, there were tribute bands for The Who and The Beatles, but there’s plenty more to come. You can settle down to Sunday Jazz in the Park (16th August) with local musicians Fat Tuesday 2nd Line Band, and Brighton-based bassist and composer Terry Packs’ Bonsai Trees with contemporary and experimental jazz. There is other live music in the pipeline over the summer. Check the venue’s website for ticket availability and an updated programme.
Meanwhile, turning to theatre, we’re already looking ahead to The Three Musketeers on Sunday 6th September. This is directed by Sarah Slator, who’s got good form at BOAT having offered us a cracking version of Midsummer’s Night Dream a couple of years ago (which we reviewed here). Sarah and company are familiar with outdoor theatre. “We do rural touring camps and so do lots of open spaces and historical venues between March and September.”
Sarah is upfront about what drew her to the musketeers. “The sword fights attracted me!” But one of the biggest challenges has been that, due to Covid, the actors have been learning the chorography from a fight director via video link. Don’t forget to duck.
The story, written by Alexandre Dumas in 1844, certainly has plenty of swashbuckling battles. Sarah sees the play as primarily aimed at families and children. But it also points a finger at social injustice and political debates in France at that time. Three characters play all the roles and there is even some homegrown puppetry.
Sarah is keen on people being safe and also taking the chance to “get beyond watching the digital archives on TV” and “encouraging people to share a play together”. It’s physical theatre that keeps close to the original tale.
So, live, open air music and theatre on your doorstep. We’re hoping to hear more about our other small and medium-sized venues opening soon. Meanwhile, take a rain hat and sun lotion – but watch out for swords:. Let’s go BOATting.
Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT), Dyke Road Park BN3 6EH, August – September 2020