In more normal times, The Beacon is an all-day, all-week arts centre at the heart of Greenock's Waterfront regeneration. The venue has been double-hit by the crisis, both as a performing arts space and a community hub. We spoke to the team about their Covid-19 response strategies and how they have been coping in the face of a pandemic. The Beacon's five-point Community Story covers:
- Life in Lock-down
- Adapting to New Approaches
- Considering our Comeback
- Navigating the New Normal
- Data-led Decision Making
Life in Lock-down
The Beacon closed its doors to the public on 16 March 2020, and now a year on we remain closed for live performances in line with Scottish Government restrictions. Between 17 March and 27 August 2020 no activity took place within the building, with a brief return in late August to prepare for outdoor performances and the reopening of our takeaway café operation and exhibition programme. All casual staff have been furloughed full time since March 2020 and some of our core team flexibly furloughed in the last few months. We have rescheduled as many shows as possible that were due to take place in 2020, including our annual pantomime, with some shows moving multiple times and others unable to rebook as restrictions continue.
Adapting to New Approaches
We launched our digital programme, Beacon Connect: the arts uploaded in April 2020, to stay connected with our audiences and bring new activities online including curated work from theatre-makers, artists, interactive classes, and weekly storytelling sessions for younger audiences. We have successfully taken work to new outdoor spaces: hosting socially distanced outdoor performances with Scottish Opera’s Pop-Up Opera in September last year and previewing our co-production Musicals in the Park at Gourock Amphitheatre – a fantastic space and underused resource. In the absence of our annual pantomime last year, we produced a festive film, working with the creative team, to stay connected to local schools, residents, and the wider community, and offering an alternative to the hugely popular traditional performances families return to see year-on-year.
We have been involved in various digital co-productions, most recently including the short film Ever Young. All the above projects have brought their own set of challenges, but by collaborating with artists, producers, and theatre makers (providing opportunities for development of work) and partnering with local organisations to approach new projects, we have produced some fantastic new work and activities for local and new audiences to enjoy and participate in online, while we remain apart.
Considering our Comeback
As the dates for reopening are still uncertain for Scottish venues, we are continuing to focus on our digital programme and online content as we believe the hybrid model of live and digital will remain for some time – looking at ease of access and streaming functionality. For when we can welcome audiences and visitors back to the venue, we have increased safety protocols and hope to revisit the possibility of outdoor performances and alternative setup options for indoor performances for agreed capacities to ease audiences into returning to the venue. Since the temporary closure of our venue, we have found success as a filming location, with multiple companies hiring spaces within the venue to film across TV, theatre, dance, music and more. This is an exciting new chapter for us and an area of activity we hope to develop as an alternative use for our venue in the absence / reduction of live performances.
Navigating the New Normal
Until we know more about the route map for live events and performances, we aim to use this time to improve on our services and offering, both within the venue (signage, maintenance, development of space) and in the community (partnership working and projects, collaborations, and outdoor performances) to ensure we continue to deliver our work in new and meaningful ways until such time as social distancing is no longer in place and allows for a full return for theatre and venue, with increased capacities.
We hope to move to contactless ticketing and with the help of our brilliant software packages, streamline our booking process for returning audiences, ensuring enhanced safety measures are in place and communicated effectively.
Data-led Decision Making
We are relatively new to Audience Finder and still getting to know the platform and its functions. We aim to use the tools available to inform our audience development strategy for 2021 – to help us to identify and communicate effectively with new and existing audiences while we remain closed. We want to build trust in audiences to return to the venue when it is safe to do so and to communicate honestly our processes and procedures and the actions taken to ensure a safe return for our staff and audiences. Our team will use reporting and development modules to map out our intentions for the coming months and how we adapt at each stage as restrictions begin to lift. At this stage, Audience Finder provides an invaluable tool – allowing us to benchmark our own ticketing and customer data against national data, and so inherit a deeper understanding of audience intentions, booking patterns and profiles as we navigate our way through the effects of the pandemic on our communities and organisation.
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