FOR 75 years, the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow’s Gorbals has been the hub of accessible arts in the city, and now the venue is looking towards operating in a post-lockdown world.

The £20m redevelopment works began on the venue in September 2019, marking the largest renovation of the 145-year-old building in its history.

However, after lockdown halted work on the site for over 3 months, the Citizens Theatre is finally able to plan and look forward to welcoming patrons back in the next few years.

“It’s so great that we can begin work again on the site”, said the theatre’s artistic director, Dominic Hill.

Glasgow Times:

“We were actually in a lucky position, if that’s the best way to phrase it, because we didn’t have a running venue at the time of lockdown.

“We didn’t have any overheads that many other theatres and venues all over the country did have, so we haven’t been in as bad a situation as we could’ve been.”

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While the coronavirus has hit many industries across the board, one of the arguably most neglected during this time has been the arts.

Dominic said: “We have very much banded together as an industry during this crisis.

“We’ve been in touch with venues in Pitlochry, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Inverness, and the message is the same, that the live theatre have been left in the dark.”

On Friday 3 July, the Scottish Government announced a £10m ‘lifeline support for performing arts venues’, something which has been desperately needed by venues across the city.

Dominic said: “I can’t think of anything else that could’ve been created to damage live theatre the way coronavirus has hit the industry in the past three months.

“Not only that but it ripples out. People’s jobs are at risk, the businesses nearby will be affected by the lack of footfall.

“Freelancers, which is a very common practice in the industry, are also very unprotected and their livelihoods are at stake.”

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Before lockdown, shows had been taking place at the nearby Tramway Theatre while the Citizens site was under construction.

“At one point, we were told that we would be able to open the venue but couldn’t put on any live performances which would be pointless to us.”

The Citizens has been host to megastars over the years such as Peter Capaldi, Celia Imrie, Rupert Everett and even James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan, but with the threat to the live theatre sector very real, the logistics of welcoming more stars and up and coming talent to tread the boards is looking increasingly difficult.

Glasgow Times: Council leader Susan Aiken, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Chair of the Citizens Theatre, April Chamberlain launch the redevelopment of the venue in September 2019.Council leader Susan Aiken, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Chair of the Citizens Theatre, April Chamberlain launch the redevelopment of the venue in September 2019.

Dominic said: “There will be lots of challenges that will come when we are able to open and put performances on.

“If we have to socially distance, the logistics of putting a show on and making sure that the cast and crew are adhering to rules will be very difficult.

“We’ve looked at outside performances but obviously there will be limits to this.

“We are not defeatist, we will find a way to work but it is logistically a nightmare.”

While lockdown had temporarily halted work on the redevelopment of the site and paused live events, the theatre has continued work in the community which has been a part of its ethos since opening in 1945.

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The Citizens Theatre has been hosting online classes and workshops to keep connected to the community, including Friday Club, a creative skills and performance group for adults with learning disabilities, and Off The Page, a play-reading session for seniors.

“Being a part of the community has always been a part of who we are and we will continue to do that anyway we can.

“We have participation groups going on during lockdown. We have a lot of people who are living in isolation and use these groups to be a part of a community collective.

“It really is a lifeline for many people, it’s tricky to keep going.

“And it is really important that we are able to see people in person eventually because some might not have iPads or mobile phones to access.

“It’s really important that we continue to help the community, even while we can’t fully operate.”

While the redevelopment is now planned to be finished in 2022, Dominic still expects the Citizens, and the entire sector, to feel the effect of coronavirus and lockdown for a long time.

He said: “One of our biggest challenges will be getting people back in the door I think.

“It’s hard to know what will be coming in the next few months but it will take time for audiences to trust being in a theatre setting after spending so long following social distancing rules.

“We could have a vaccine this time in two years, or the virus could be completely gone, and ourselves and other venues will have to be flexible and work quickly to requirements.

Dominic predicts that venues will be able to open during ‘Phase Four’ of the coronavirus route map, but says that the confidence of the audiences coming through the door is what will make or break the situation.

“We are optimistic that we will be able to open.

“People have been really supportive so far though, and we can only hope that the community will support the arts sector when we are able open fully.”

“We support local business and get that support form the community.

“We don’t exist in a silo ourselves - the Citizens Theatre is part of the heart of this great city.”