When the history of 2020 comes to be written, it will no doubt be described as the year of the pandemic. The effects of Covid-19 have been far reaching, and those of us who are engaged in producing drama, whether professional or amateur, have been hit particularly hard by social distancing rules and the requirement to wear face masks. As a result, theatres around the country went dark in late March 2020. Most theatres rely upon minimum 70-80% capacity audiences, and for the Wychwood Players this translates into average audiences of at least 80 per night over a three night run. On a Friday or Saturday night we often comfortably exceed Box Office sales of 100 tickets, even hitting 140 on certain memorable occasions. The current restrictions in place in the New Beaconsfield Hall limit capacity in the main Hall to 40, and it is sadly not economically viable for us to produce a play under these conditions, given that the costs of staging a play are generally at least £2,500.
In March Wychwood Players were in the late stages of rehearsing Play On!, a comedy by Rick Abbot about a group of actors putting on a play, resulting in mayhem. This would have been our 61st production since formation of the group in 1997, but everything was brought to an abrupt halt when lockdown was imposed and the play had to be mothballed.
However, we have not been idle during these strange times. Two of our members, John Drew and Ralph Wears, took the opportunity to write their own plays, and a number of our members enjoyed reading parts facilitated by the wonders of Zoom technology. We have also used Zoom for a series of enjoyable Quiz Nights.
Earlier in the year, the committee concluded that the time was right to commission a new website for the Players, and following enquiries we signed a contract with external suppliers to commission and design this for us. This has grown into a major project, as the objective is to incorporate programmes, reviews, posters and photos of our entire back catalogue of productions. As you can imagine, this has proved to be a huge task, given that we have never before attempted to amass an archive in this way, being always focussed on the next production, rather than reflecting on what has gone before. It has however been a glorious exercise in nostalgia, and after several months in construction we are now delighted to be able to share this with you. We hope that it is something that members and supporters, both past and present, will dip into and that it will be a showcase for anyone considering joining the group.
Another major project under way during lockdown is to upgrade our stage lighting. We have applied for, and been awarded, a grant from Shipton-under-Wychwood Parish Council. This arises from S106 funding which will be made available from the developers of the Deanfield site adjacent to the school in Shipton. The installation of LED stage lights will come with various benefits: energy efficiency, less heat generation and greater flexibility, including the option to include colour. The grant will be paid once a proportion of the new houses have been completed and sold.
As I write this, in early September, we have no idea when we will be able to start rehearsing for a new production but we keep a close eye on Government guidelines and any news affecting theatres generally. We know that many people are really missing live entertainment, in all its many guises, and we are eagerly looking forward to a time when we can tread the boards again, restoring theatre to the Wychwoods.
Chairman & Treasurer