In the week that we should have been moving into our new building, our Chief Executive Roddy talks about how the Octagon is coping through this extraordinary time.
Hello, I’m Roddy, Chief Executive of the Octagon.
After years of planning, fundraising and construction, we were due to move back into the Octagon Theatre this week. Instead, like so many others, I’m working from a bedroom at home.
Life seems a world away from the excitement of our season launch back in February. As a company we were full of hope and enthusiasm for our future. We were in the spotlight, gaining international attention, and people were queuing out of the box office door to book tickets. Just three weeks later we were sending all of our staff home. Even then, I could not yet have foreseen just how perilous our theatre’s future would become. We won’t be able to open our theatre as planned this summer, we’ve cancelled our autumn shows and we stand to lose a huge amount of income. Feelings of grief and letting go have turned into a fight for survival.
Days and weeks pass in a haze of video meetings and phone calls: chatting with staff, calling donors, going through cash flow forecasts, breaking bad news to people, asking people for help, and myriad “what ifs” that I have no answer to. As a team, we’re now working on countless scenarios of social distancing and how to make the finances stack up, all under the air of uncertainty and unpredictability we all seem to live in these days. I’ve never yet lost hope and try to keep everyone’s spirits up whilst being honest about the challenge we face. Our regular video catch ups, initiatives like sewing scrubs for the NHS, quiz nights and photo updates of the building’s progress all help keep morale going. (It’s looking so amazing, by the way. I can’t wait until we can actually let people in!)
Our team is many things: dedicated, creative, resilient, compassionate. They’re having to be all that and more right now. The people who are still working are going above and beyond: finding new ways of doing things, juggling home schooling and life’s other challenges, whilst putting in every hour they can to keep the Octagon going. Most staff are on furlough though, frustrated at not being able to be more active in our time of need and worried about their own finances in this situation. The same is true for the countless freelancers who work with us both on stage and off.
Although we’re physically shut, we’ve been working hard to connect digitally with people. I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to move so much of our creative engagement work online. Activities like the Theatre Club, youth theatre, creative challenges and writing competition are making a big difference at an otherwise isolating time. Lotte (our Artistic Director) and I talk about what people will need from their theatre when we re-open. As well as putting on brilliant productions we want the Octagon to be a useful place where people can feel safe, take part in something exciting, learn new skills and socialise when the time is right to do so. We’re already talking with other charities who could use our building too.
It feels very unfair that we’ve waited for two years to have a theatre again and now we have this delay and hardship. I know that we have a fantastic future ahead though. We’ve invested so much – with the tremendous support of Bolton Council, the Arts Council and supporters – to create a truly world class theatre. We have an audience who are hugely loyal and missing us. We will need to change, be brave and be imaginative – and with people’s help, we’ll get through this.
So thank you to everyone to who has donated, offered support or simply asked how everybody is. It really means a great deal.
We’re all determined that the Octagon will be back, safely and ready to welcome you. I look forward to seeing you then!