IT was an exciting week for the county’s local performing arts scene, as the Ardhowen Theatre welcomed audience members back to its auditorium for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
While the future at one time appeared uncertain for theatre’s like the Ardhowen, staff said they were “beyond excited” to re-open their doors to audience members for the first time since March 2020, with the home grown talent of Fermanagh Musical Theatre (FMT) and their new production of ‘Curtains’.
While performers have expressed their excitement about finally getting back on stage, Chairwoman of FMT, Nadia Stenson outlined some of the “excruciating hurdles” that Covid has created for the group along the way.
“We made devastating losses due to the lack of support and tough restrictions in place by the government,” she told the Herald.
“Theatres have been the last thing to open and even sporting events, with hundreds to thousands of people, who are free to move about and interact, drink and keep no distancing, shout, sweat and have contact with each other, have been functioning for months.
“Yet we were denied the right to sit quietly in a theatre, with no interval, no bar service and spaced one metre apart whilst wearing a face covering. It isn’t right.
“FMT know how important the arts are to the community, and after facing the disappointment of having to cancel our production of 9-5 last year, we were determined to make a show happen this year.”
Adding to the experience of what she described as “hitting a curveball at every corner”, Nadia says that the group of talented performers still faced major challenges even in the final weeks leading-up to their opening night.
“It has not been easy. We are the first live indoor show with an audience in the Ardhowen Theatre since the pandemic began and we feel extremely privileged to be the first group to pioneer this new way of performance.
“Although it brings a challenge of having no interval, we will work with this new way of performing until things can get back to normal.
“The cast however still needed the 15 minute rest between the first and second half of the show in order to change, set costumes and hydrate as this is a very energetic piece of theatre.
“We are only allowed a maximum capacity of 97 seats in the auditorium which is 200 seats less a night than we can usually sell and unfortunately once again the arts council have offered no relief in this area or reduced hire charges in order to reflect the number of ticket sales, making it more likely to make a loss than a profit.
Speaking on the lack of funding and support given to the arts industry since the outbreak of Covid, Nadia said, “Unfortunately since the arts funding is so poor at the moment, the normal funding that is usually available to apply for wasn’t there.
“We had to focus our attention on fundraising and sponsorship locally in the community. But businesses have been hit hard locally this year and unfortunately most businesses were not in a financial position to donate towards anything due to having to close for so long over lockdown.
“We have been very lucky with some of the businesses generously donating and supporting the arts this year and to them we are so unbelievably grateful.
“Those that couldn’t sponsor the show, helped out so much by donating amazing prizes to aid our online raffle.
“But through it all we decided to push forward with the production as it’s more important to get the arts in the community up and running again and keep spirits high.”
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