‘Our sector is waiting in the wings to come back with the best of live theatre’ – Life in Lockdown with Joseph Houston

The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester was opened by couple Joseph Houston and William Whelton in 2015 and now, like all other theatres, it’s doors are closed due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. This award winning theatre is now struggling, much like other regional theatres, but the creative team are still working hard to keep things moving with a production of Rent scheduled to open in October, global circumstances permitting. I was fortunate enough to talk to the theatre’s artistic director Joseph Houston about how he is keeping busy during the lockdown and him and William’s hopes for the future of the arts industry

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

It has been such a difficult time for us all at the venue, as well as in our industry. At the beginning of lockdown, there was a lot of stress and anxiety around how we would financially be affected by this and how long it would last. Now that we have a little more clarity, we have been able to look at ways of supporting the venue in staying open until the end of the year, without any income. It’s still very unsettling and there is still a long way to go regarding how/ when / if we are able to open towards the end of the year. It’s been the most trying and testing time we have had to face since opening the venue, but we have been trying our best to remain positive and hopeful. As individuals we are used to being on the go and working all the time, so there has been some positives to the lockdown in being forced to slow down and take time to recharge, which has been nice. 

How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown? 

We have still been working and planning on future projects and productions, which has been keeping us busy over the lockdown period. We have been using this time to stay healthy and fit, jogging, eating good meals. We have enjoyed cooking and catching up with friends and family, which is not always easy to do when you work so much.

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

Definitely getting back to work- which I never thought I would say! Also – going out and having a meal and drink in our favourite restaurants and of course being able to visit and hug family and friends. 

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

Keep supporting, keep spreading the words, keep viewing online content and keep spreading the cause. But the most important thing is, when it is safe to do so and we are able to welcome you back, come! 

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

I love the sheer camaraderie and sense of a community coming together as a united force to tackle anything that attacks our beloved industry. The determination and positivity of individuals and companies is an inspiration! 

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

I think at the moment, yes, there is going to be a massive change in how we create and share work, as it has to be online. But I do think that it does show how important and unmatched live theatre is and although it’s important to look at keeping engaged with digital and online work, to develop new audiences, I think that our sector is waiting in the wings to come back with the best of live theatre. 

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

Been enjoying being at home and cooking etc although I find the evenings hard as we have pretty much watched everything on Netflix and Amazon! 

Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown and the gradual easing of lockdown hard to manage?

It is difficult and it’s hard on mental health. My biggest piece of advice would be take time away from social media, as it’s not always healthy. I have found that being in lockdown has meant that I have been looking at my phone more and it’s definitely been tough on my mental health. It won’t be an easy process and it will take time, but we will come out if this bigger and better than before! 

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

It is always important to talk about mental health, especially in our sector. We need to make sure we reach out to vulnerable people and always make it safe for individuals to speak out. 

I would like to thank Joseph for his time and his answers to this interview, as well as wish him and all at the Hope Mill Theatre the very best for the future. Stay safe x

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