‘I haven’t been away from a theatre for this long in years!’ – Life in Lockdown with Matthew Pain

Matthew Pain has worked in stage management on a number of productions including the UK Tour of Friendsical the musical, Flashdance UK and Korea and Peter Pan in Crewe. I was lucky enough to talk to Matthew about how he is adjusting to a life in lockdown and his hopes for the theatre industry looking towards the future.

First of all, how are you feeling about the whole situation?

We are obviously in a very difficult position right now and to a lot of theatre people, this entire situation is completely unheard of. While we are not able to be in the places that we love most, I absolutely understand the need to close all of our venues to try and combat the spread of Covid-19. It is tough at times but it is necessary. There is a lot of uncertainty in the industry at the moment about when we will reopen. The general consensus seems to be that most people are not expecting to reopen until the autumn, maybe around mid September, but this is pure speculation and producers/venues will be following all government guidance. But I can’t this heavily enough – Nothing is confirmed until we hear it from the government. We really need to wait and see how things go but of course safety should come first. One of the other concerns is that there might be a lack of demand as people won’t want to sit in a crowded room as soon after being told to stay apart for 2 months. You never know, we might be pleasantly surprised. Let’s just hope for a bumper panto season to life everyone’s spirits again. But for now, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ which can add to the stress levels.

How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown?

I have been trying to keep myself busy or at least entertained. I’m quite a creative person in and out of work so there has been a bit of painting, decorating and gardening. I keep looking at furniture in my house and thinking ‘oh I wonder what that would look like if I painted it white!’. Disney + could not have arrived at a better time either. I am loving their original series ‘Encore’ at the moment. A perfect stagey show!

What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is over?

I think I am most looking forward to getting back to work really. I like to be kept busy and I like to be in our theatres so I can’t wait to get back on a stage. Whatever show that might be! I am a very stagey person and I haven’t been away from a theatre for this long in years!

Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times?

Absolutely. Many people who work in theatre are freelancers/self-employed. Despite a lot of us being on a company’s payroll for a show, we aren’t eligible to be furloughed. I can’t speak for everyone but most shows can’t/won’t keep paying everyone until they reopen. Many have given a payment to try and bridge the gap, but generally that isn’t going to be enough for people who have rent and bills to pay over a substantial amount of time. The government have set up a scheme to help support the self employed but that won’t be available until some time around June. There are a lot of charities out there that are supporting artists, creatives and production staff such as Funds for Freelancers, Acting for Others and the Equity Benevolent Fund. Some producers are also sharing archive recordings of their shows for small donations as well which I think is a great initiative. We get to see the shows that we love from our own home and we can help the people that made them at the same times. There are people and families out there in desperate need of support and even small donations will eventually add up. You might end up helping someone to buy their weekly shop for them and their kids. Some venues, including my local venue, The Theatre Royal Plymouth, are asking for donations too. The last thing we want is for venues to go under so they are a great place to donate too as well. Obviously we can’t all afford to do this but we can all share the info on our social media to raise awareness of them. For those who have already been donating, thank you for supporting our wonderful industry.

What is your favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole?

This is going to sound like such a cliche but I do love hearing an audience react during a show. When you hear laughter or applause, it gives you such a nice feeling. As Stage Management, I spend most of my time keeping things running offstage, but we still love to hear an audience having a good time and we can really feed off of that energy! The theatre community is such a lovely group of people. Everyone is incredibly supportive and, let’s face it, where would we be without the audiences and the fans! Trying to do a scene change in full view of the audience while you have got actors shouting at you can a laugh too. I love doing a bit of improv in return.

With the theatres closed and so much being moved online, do you think that we are seeing a change in how the industry works?

For the time being, yes. The venues will be closed for a while longer so I expect that we will see more and more archive recordings making their way onto streaming sites. This is a great way to support the charities helping those in need, but when the theatres reopen I can’t see much of a need for this.

More shows keep getting added to the likes of BroadwayHD and I expect that will continue when we get out of this crisis. I see no issues with a show being made available online when the run has ended but having shows online while still performing in a theatre could have quite a detrimental effect on sales. It can also be very costly to publicly release a filmed version of a show when you consider the payments for everyone involved. But I am loving the latest move of putting some popular productions online to keep us occupied and remind us that the show will go on! I have also seen people sharing videos elsewhere. Please, if a producer has put a video up and is asking for you to donate to watch it, don’t download it and upload it somewhere else. They have been uploaded for a very good reason after all, and the more we watch their streams, the better the chance of getting more releases in the future.

How have you been managing day to day life in quarantine? Do you have a routine, or do you just go with the flow?

I very much just go with the flow at the moment. Let’s just say that this is quite a change for a stage manager who will normally have everything scheduled out for the entire week!

Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown hard to manage?

Being in lockdown can be really tough. People need to remember that the theatre community is such a supportive place and we all need to help each other through this. Keep in touch with family and friends and try and find something to keep you occupied. It could be watching TV, Disney+, making Lego, jigsaws, gardening, etc. Find something that you enjoy as a hobby really helps to pass the time. And I know everyone needs to let it all out sometimes so don’t bottle things up. Keep talking to people and look after yourself and each other.

Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these challenging times?

I think it is important that we talk about mental health issues all the time. But yes, now more than ever. While the theatre community can be lovely, you can also get the odd person who tries to bring people down. This can have a massive effect on people and I know many people who don’t speak about their feelings and really bottle it all up. I’ll put my hand up because I can be one of those people. But sometimes having a simple chat with someone and getting things off your chest can really help to lighten the load. We all need to look out for each other. Someone around you might be acting a bit differently. Keep an eye on them and help each other through this. Because we will get through this eventually.

In terms of those people trying to bring others down – please don’t give them a platform. Don’t respond to them. That’s what they want you to do. Report them, block them, ignore them. Don’t let trolls get to you as that’s what they want. Just leave them to it and eventually they’ll get bored of trying. These incidents are minimal but they can rapidly escalate so lets try to avoid that from happening.

I would like to thank Matthew for his time and his fantastic response to this interview, and wish him the very best for the future. Stay safe x


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