Our Chief Executive, Roddy Gauld talks about plans for the Octagon ahead of it’s opening this December and what audiences can expect from the Reimagined Octagon.
Back in May I blogged about how the Octagon was coping through the tumultuous effects of Covid-19 (click here to read). Like so many others, I had a makeshift home office. Today, I’m writing from my office in the Octagon and we’re making steady progress towards opening.
It’s just over two years since we moved out of the theatre for our £12m redevelopment to take place. I could not have foreseen the setbacks we’d experience: uncharted underground cables and drains, the foundations of forgotten houses under the theatre, endless delays due to a well-known telecoms company, and asbestos where we least expected to find it. We joked that we’d hit upon every misfortune possible. And then along came a world pandemic! Covid-19 meant that all theatres were told to close indefinitely and our construction work was delayed by several months. There was no realistic prospect of opening until the end of 2020 and overnight we lost half a million pounds of income.
After several months of uncertainty, we are now announcing our plans to re-open the Octagon in early December. By then we’ll have finished fitting out the interiors and installing technical equipment, as well as putting in place all the ‘Covid secure’ measures to keep everybody safe. I am so happy that we’ve made it this far but also very sad that we’ve had to postpone A Christmas Carol to next year. Right now, performances are only permissible with social distancing, meaning much smaller audiences. We typically need at least 75% full houses to make a show financially viable. With 2m distances in the auditorium, the maximum capacity we can achieve is closer to 25%. Social distancing isn’t just a physical gap; it’s a massive financial one.
Our re-opening season was due to be one of the biggest moments in our history. A Christmas Carol, An Adventure and The Book Thief were planned as big celebratory productions. These shows are also big financial investments that we simply cannot risk at the present time. We asked ourselves, could we really put all our remaining funds into these shows which then might only play to a small number of people, or potentially have to be cancelled due to a local lockdown?
Instead, we’re going to gradually rebuild our programme from December onwards. There’ll be family festive events and our new Kitchen & Bar will open. Our award winning creative engagement work will resume in-person. We’re planning new, exciting productions that won’t require a full audience and will still fulfil our promise to be Bold, Adventurous and Popular. We’re really excited to think about the special and one-off events that could take place, including drawing upon the enormous talent of our region’s freelance creative workforce. We’re going to be very nimble about making decisions on our productions, so that we can respond quickly to changing circumstances. This autumn we’ll make the first of a series of announcements about what’s coming up and the different ways you can get involved in bringing the Octagon back to life!
Until then, we still have a lot of work and fighting to do and I want to thank everyone who has supported us so far. We don’t know yet whether we’ll receive any of the Government’s support for the cultural sector, and your donations to our Future Fund have made a massive difference to getting us this far and laid the foundations for our recovery.
It says so much about the Octagon – and the affection people have for the theatre – that our fundraising appeal far exceeded our expectations. We’ve been reflecting a lot on why so many people have come so generously to our aid. It’s made us even more determined that we will be back, and that we must continue to place our community at the heart of what we do and why we exist.
That’s why our reimagined Octagon will be a place where world-class productions happen alongside family activities and casual cups of coffee. As well as proudly making theatre here in Bolton, we want to grow our work in and with our community. The Octagon will be a place where diversity is embraced and we hope everybody will feel welcome. After all, everyone’s story matters. So whether you’re part of the Octagon for an entertaining night out or a life-changing project – this will be somewhere you will feel at home. I can’t wait to welcome you!
One of the ways you can support the Octagon is to join as a Member - from just £3 per month you can look forward to great rewards including priority booking and discounts, at the same time as helping the Octagon continue on the road to recovery. Find out more about becoming a Member here