For many amateur theatre groups and companies 2020 started off as usual with a calendar of performances planned for the forthcoming year. Our first venture was Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” to be staged on 19th to 21st March at the 300 seat South Mill Arts (formerly Rhodes) Theatre in Bishop’s Stortford.  Rehearsals had progressed well and we erected the set on the Sunday preparing for the dress rehearsals and Thursday’s opening night. However, during the first few months of this year, quietly in the background at first but gathering momentum, was this new Coronavirus. By the time we had got to the final dress rehearsal on the Wednesday the theatre had announced its closure on the Thursday and as we all know by the following Monday we all had entered the “Lockdown”.

Governed as we all were by the new restrictive measures in place for now and for the unforeseeable future we had a choice: to quietly go into neutral and ride out this viral storm or optimistically adapt to the situation and go on. Like many amateur theatre groups, Water lane is made up of people not only enthusiastic for the stage but as a company of friends, therefore to settle into quiet isolation was not an option. 

Discovering zoom was a technological lifeline. For the first five or six weeks of lockdown we organised weekly quizzes and progressed to daily zoomed monologues. These were open to all our members who could do anything they wished (within respectable reason) as long as it lasted for only five or so minutes. The response was a wonderful collection of recitals from Shakespeare to the Vagina Monologues and from music hall ballads to ghost stories and more. As these short creative moments came to a natural end and the lockdown restrictions began to lift, we decided to record short “radio plays” to be aired on our Facebook group. These consisted of a series of old Sherlock Holmes scripts which we discovered on the internet together with short one-off plays written by members. The recordings were made in a rehearsal room at the theatre with small casts doubling up on characters and socially distancing as required rotating the cast with each recording.

As the lockdown began to ease it was announced that theatres could now perform outside. So seizing the opportunity we decided to stage an outside production. With a private audience of members, families and friends we presented “A Four Play Afternoon”, a collection of four one-act plays each with small casts to keep within the rules. The audience was logged by name and contact details, temperature tested on arrival and seated in bubbles of six. This effort towards normality was very much appreciated by the audience but more so by the actors, directors and production staff making the whole afternoon a great success.

So now once again restrictions have been put in place to avoid a second wave of the virus. Our postponed March production, re-scheduled to be performed in November is once again postponed until next year. Nevertheless, through the next few months we will be zooming on with “Theatre in the Zoom” a development on from our early monologues. These will consist of short plays or pieces performed live or recorded twice a week until December and a series of workshops covering production management, directing and set design. Lastly of course, a few more quizzes by popular request!

Water Lane Theatre Company, like so many groups, is driven by talent and fuelled by enthusiasm. We amateur actors, directors, set builders, seamstresses and technicians are the backbone of this country’s world-wide reputation for the Theatre. Amateur groups give life and laughter not only to all our members throughout the country but to all our communities. It is vital that we all stay together and keep in touch with each other over the coming winter months. No one knows what the situation will be in 2021 but I am sure, with optimism, that it will be a better year for all and in particular the theatre, or as a 19th century circus ringmaster would say at the point of trouble “The show must go on.”

Granville Rush - Chair