The Show must go on!
These are challenging times for theatre companies, and especially for our larger landmark venues which bring us all so much joy. I'm hoping they will be able to open their bars on 4th July so we can buy a drink and toast the arts - and showing our support at the same time.
For Treehouse - a theatre without a theatre - in some ways its easier. We are small, flexible, responsive and adaptable. As a family business the full time members of Treehouse Theatre can continue to work together, planning, rehearsing, recording stories, fixing props and making costumes.
Most of all, we love a challenge. 15 years ago, we chucked in our 'normal' jobs to start Treehouse Theatre and have never looked back. There isn't much point in being in the performing arts if you don't like a bit of challenge and adversity - and more often than not it drives the best new ideas. Sand in the oyster of life.
I have spent the last two, three, four weeks (more?) writing risk assessments, and searching for best practice in companies similar to us across Europe. I've been reading constantly changing government guidance. Understanding how our work fits into the guidance is really hard, because we're so small and don't have our own venue. We don't seem to fit into any of the boxes for different sectors. Often, our workshops are like very exciting dynamic history classes or literacy lessons. Where is the line between teacher and actor? When does a school hall become a theatre?
The long awaited announcement for theatres came yesterday - a 5-Step plan for performing arts - and whilst there is little detail yet, we have incorporated this into our risk assessments as well. We will of course continue to refine and update everything as the details emerge.
I'm writing this for our loyal customers and school communities who we want above all to be safe and able to enjoy our workshops without worrying. I wanted to share with you the thought processes and decisions that went into writing our risk assessments. I'm sure the assessments will continue to change in response to the ever evolving government advice. I'd love your feedback and ideas for improvement - after all this is a new situation for all of us.
In the end I divided our various workshops into 2 types.
Type 1 is most like a school class led by a teacher - ie, small groups of no more than 30, set in a well controlled and covid-secure environment such as a school. Everyone in the session is contributing to the workshop just like in a classroom; there is no audience in a traditional way. Distancing and good hygiene are easy to practice. Rules set in place are easy to maintain with the support of school staff. Risk assessments for Type 1 workshops are mostly based on advice for schools and the public. Pop-Up Story Theatre in a school setting is Type 1.
Type 2 is most like a theatre performance - ie larger groups of more than 30, the majority of whom are watching as an audience. The workshop/show is set in a space where due to numbers distancing is more difficult, although good hygiene, rule following and good ventilation is still possible. Risk assessments for Type 2 workshops are based on advice for the 5-Step plan for performing arts, combined with advice for schools. Our Pantomime is a Type 2 performance. At the time of writing this, we are at step 2 of the government 5-step plan - which means we can perform for film/broadcast but not for live shows.
The obvious outlier - for those who know Treehouse Theatres work - is a Play-in-a-Day. In many ways this is our flagship, combining everything that is best of interactive theatre, history teaching, performance skills, drama workshops and teamwork. This well-loved action packed day really has 2 components - the morning workshops being Type 1 and the afternoon performance being Type 2.
The afternoon part of a Play-in-a-Day, with the whole group together for a performance in the hall, falls into Step 4 or 5 of the government plan (depending on numbers), which hopefully will be achieved soon, though when is anyones guess! At that point we will be able to perform Play-in-a-Days in their usual format.
Happily we have another version of a Play-in-a-Day which has been up our sleeve for emergency purposes for about 10 years. The Film Version! Usually this only makes an appearance when the school hall is out of action. We get a dramatic early morning phone call - the ceilings fallen in, the boiler exploded, everything's been flooded (all true!) - but the show must go on of course! We've fallen back on the Film Version in order to deliver in a Play-in-a-Day in a much smaller space, when its impossible for the whole group to gather in the hall for the the performance - a classroom, the library, the canteen - whatever's available after the afore-mentioned dramatic incident. Instead of the culmination of the days workshops being a show that the whole group (up to 150 children) perform together, the workshop groups each independently produce a 15 minute section of film. The sections are collated to produce a complete film version which can be watched in class later. The film has exactly the same content as the performance would do.
So for todays new world we will be using the Film Version format - but of course holding the workshops in a large well-ventilated school hall. This workshop fits into Step 2 of current guidance - which is where we are right now.
Initially all Play-in-a-Days booked will be assumed to be film versions. Once we reach Step 4 and 5 of the 5-Step plan for performing arts, we will offer schools a choice of the usual performance-based format, or the Film version.
Download the risk assessments here:
You can read all about Play-in-Days, and the topics we cover, on the KS2 page.
We don't take deposits for bookings, and you can cancel without penalty up to a month beforehand, so please be confident to book an autumn date now and see how things pan out.
Pop-Up Story Theatre
Pop-Up Story Theatre is our carefully adapted small audience story telling format. Its great fun and works really well. We're very proud to be able to offer this to schools this term - and hopefully soon - to public venues. Risk assessing this workshop has been tricky, and again has involved much reading of government guidance, advice from our industry specialists, and other companies throughout Europe. We have concluded that the type of participants and the setting are key differences we need to consider.
Pop-Up Story Theatre in schools ONLY is Type 1. This is because the setting is very well managed, and the people participating are too. Its easy to keep everyone safe, other adults attending the workshop have an excellent understanding of government guidance, all participants are in a familiar setting and following familiar rules.
Download the risk assessment here:
Pop-Up Story Theatre in public venues is Type 2. Although the format and number of participants is the same, people behave very differently in public settings, the space is managed differently, the participants are families rather than classes and teachers, and the participants may never have been to the setting before. For this reason we have risk-assessed Pop-Up Story Theatre in public venues as Type 2, which means that we are waiting for the government to say that we are on Step 3 of the 5-Step plan, which gives the green light to outdoor performance. Its a bit frustrating to us that one actor telling a story to 15 people sat in a spaced out circle, is classed the same as a big outdoor theatre show with lots of cast and hundreds of audience, but this is the current situation!
All settings are welcome to book dates now for Pop-Up Story Theatre.
Bookings for public venues are subject to government guidance moving to Step 3, but you are welcome to reserve a date with fingers crossed and no obligation!
We don't take deposits for bookings, and all bookings until September 1st have no cancellation charges.
Yes, you can literally change your mind the day before and that's fine with us.
We are all living in a very uncertain world right now, and we have to rebuild our confidence together.
We can't wait to see you all again when the time is right. In the meantime, look after yourselves,
Warm wishes from all at Treehouse Theatre