COVID-19 disrupts the transition project
In March, along with every other organisation in the country, NewSPAL was disrupted by the restrictions arising from COVID-19. Having already by then acquired and tested the future IT systems, the work of checking and re-cataloguing the collection by our wonderful team of volunteers had to be suspended. We no longer had physical access to the collection in Ewell Library (which has since re-opened for borrowing in September). Work on planning the physical move of the collection to a new home in Woking had to be halted as Woking Borough Council had to re-focus its attention on grappling with the pandemic. With the timetable and other aspects of the project thrown into uncertainty, NewSPAL trustees decided the time was not right to approach grant-awarding organisations for major funding towards the completion of the project.
What did we do?
We were (and remain) acutely aware that every pound we spend is a pound which has been donated by the many individuals, groups and small trusts and other grant-giving bodies who support NewSPAL. So we have continued to make progress on the transition project where we could safely do so "virtually", but being even more than usually careful to minimise expenditure. By co-incidence, because of other commitments, Victoria Taylor, our excellent Transition Project Manager, had already asked to reduce her time commitment to NewSPAL to the equivalent of one day a week. That has helped us to keep expenditure down. We have also received a number of generous donations and a legacy since March, meaning we are now in roughly the same financial position as we were in March.
Does it make sense to continue with the NewSPAL project?
We think so. The reasons for transferring the former Surrey Performing Arts Library (SPAL) collection to a charity and giving it a new independent future remain compelling. The financial pressures on Surrey County Council which led to the closure of SPAL in Dorking, the withdrawal of specialist music librarian support and the reduction in services to SPAL users (including withdrawal from the national Inter-Library Loan scheme) have, if anything, got more severe. NewSPAL's new IT systems will allow user groups to do everything they need to (for example, check availability of sets, reserve and pay for them online and request courier delivery) more efficiently and safely than the current system. NewSPAL will be able to offer its services to a much wider range of users from around the country too, so, despite the current disruption to the activities of choirs, orchestras and drama groups, we are confident there will continue to be a demand to borrow from the SPAL collection.
So what comes next?
First, one of the pre-COVID challenges was with the proposed building in Woking. Woking's structural engineers were concerned the building would need structural reinforcement to take the weight of the SPAL collection. The cost of doing that work was starting to look prohibitive. As a small silver lining amongst the clouds of the COVID emergency, however, another (rather better) building (at ground floor level), situated in the centre of Woking, has been proposed to us as an alternative. We are currently evaluating that and working with Woking on the layout, but it looks promising. If all goes well, the building might be ready to occupy in Summer 2021.
Secondly, we need to update our medium-term business plan and budgets to make sure that the economics still work. NewSPAL will not receive any financial support from Surrey County Council and we need to make sure the income which can be generated from subscriptions and hire charges will be enough to cover the running costs of the new library service (particularly staff costs). Since September there has been some tentative resumption of activity by some orchestras, music groups, choirs and drama groups - but it is early days and the new lockdown has put a stop to everything again until 2 December. To be able to make reasonable projections about future demand for resources from the SPAL collection, we need to see how users adapt to the "new normal". It will be early in 2021 before we can get an idea about that. We know everyone is keen, but the challenges - particularly for large choral societies and orchestras and informal groups (e.g. play-reading groups) under the current restrictions - are considerable. On the other hand, perhaps previously less used parts of the SPAL collection (such as the chamber music collection) may be in more demand.
Thirdly, when we know we have the building secured and when we are confident that we will be able to generate enough income to cover our operating costs, we will still have to resume fundraising to complete equipping the new library, pay for the removal from Ewell to Woking and to employ staff for a couple of months in advance of the opening. With so many charities and organisations in desperate need, we know this will be an even bigger challenge than before.
NewSPAL was set up by and for SPAL users - committed to making sure its large and important collection of performing arts resources should continue to be available to current and future users and potential users. With your support, we have come a long way. The COVID crisis will eventually recede. It has made all of us appreciate the performing arts even more than before. Let's make sure the SPAL collection and NewSPAL are there to help them flourish again. Thank you to all our wonderful volunteers, donors and supporters for all you have done to get us this far.
If you have any comments, would like to get involved or have ideas to contribute to the project, please do get in touch with Victoria – Victoria.email@example.com .
'The Julias' Play Reading groups
Our two play reading groups have successfully met outdoors once since March. Each member has brought a speech from a Shakespeare play. The other members have to guess who is speaking, which play and the context! It is not the same as reading a full play but until a few weeks ago were not able to borrow the play sets. It was a fun way of keeping in touch before the winter!!
(The Julias consist of the Leatherhead Evening Play Reading Group and Leatherhead Afternoon Play Reading Group.)
Cantamus Reigate managed to squeeze in what was probably the final live concert before lockdown on Sat 14 March! Did anyone sing in anything live and analogue even later? If so, please leave a comment. We still have some of the copies hired from the library awaiting return. We would normally be planning for the next one now, but it’s likely we won’t meet again until 2021.
ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT BY ENGLISH ARTS CHORALE
Reigate-based English Arts Chorale (EAC) has continued to rehearse online during lockdown, polishing up Mendelssohn’s Elijah for two planned performances next season, as well as a host of other works. In addition, over 30 EAC members and associates have taken part in the three lockdown concerts, bringing a wealth of musical and other talents into the limelight! The concerts, for members, family and friends, included diverse musical works ranging from Bach to Richard Rodney Bennett and John Williams, as well as poetry and readings, some of which were self-authored. Season highlights were accompanist Jonathan Lilley’s stunning performances of works by Vierne and others, live from Waltham Abbey, where he is Director of Music.
If you’re interested in joining this lively and ambitious choir, please see details here. You might also like to join EAC’s planned tour to Prague next spring.
The Promenade Choirs, based in Horsham, has continued to work remotely during lockdown. Monday evening rehearsals for the Junior and Youth Choirs have been well attended and have offered a note of creativity during these strange times. Here are a few remote recordings to showcase the work of our members.
Kyrie from Puccini's Messa di Gloria (remote recording by the Promenade Youth Choir)
Disney Medley (remote recording by the Promenade Junior Choir during Covid lockdown)
The Bluebird by Stanford (remote recording by the Promenade Project Choir during lockdown)
The Promenade Youth and Junior Choirs are non-auditioned choirs for all young singers who want learn and are prepared to work hard to achieve a high standard. Bursaries are available for those who cannot afford the moderate termly fees. The Promenade Project Choir is a chamber choir for experienced adult singers who have strong reading ability. Many are members of local choral societies. The choir joins in one or two events a year and works on challenging repertoire that members might not have the opportunity to work on elsewhere.
Visit our website here to find out more: www.promenade.org.uk
The Redhill Sinfonia, founded in 1891, is one of the country's longest established amateur orchestras. It has had its highs and lows over the years, but it has been rehearsing and giving concerts in Redhill and Reigate every year for nearly 130 years, including through both World Wars. Although rehearsals had to be suspended in March and both its March and June concerts had to be cancelled, it is determined not to let a global pandemic prevent it from continuing to make music. On 24 June, it held a Zoom string sectional rehearsal on parts of Beethoven's Symphony No 6 (Pastoral) which it would have been performing at the cancelled June concert. Violinist and Honorary Librarian Jo Anderson took part and says it worked surprisingly well.
The first ever Redhill Sinfonia string sectional via Zoom was held earlier this month. Not of course how we would choose for it to be held, as nothing could and should replace live music making, but a positive of the current situation is that it does foster adaptability.
The Orchestra is very fortunate in having David Burton, a very experienced violinist and tutor, as its Leader. String sectionals, led by David, normally take place once a term - a time to focus on particularly tricky or awkward passages, and to pick up tips on technique. They are always enjoyable and players come out feeling that an awful lot has been learnt and achieved.
That was also the case this week. A good proportion of the string section joined the Zoom meeting, plus our conductor John Beswick, our President, Maureen Lovell and even a couple of our wind section, who were able to come and play along. String parts had been bowed by David in advance and scans distributed. David was joined by members of his musical family, wife Jane Tyler on viola and son Tim Burton on cello, and so a string trio could be seen and heard playing sections of the first and third movements of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. All other participants were put on mute (an impossible time delay of up to 3 seconds making simultaneous playing impossible) and were therefore able to play their own part along with David and his family. Technical tips were discussed and participants were able to unmute themselves to ask questions. It was great to be reunited with desk partners and other orchestral colleagues, to be playing orchestral music once again and to feel a sense of purpose and optimism by working on a piece for our next concert. A further sectional is planned for a fortnight’s time.
Many of our regular audience are members or former members of choirs, orchestras and ensembles which use SPAL's loan service and some are in playreading, drama and musicals societies too. Plus, our churches are the rehearsal venues for Leatherhead Choral Society, barbershop group The Downsmen, and the Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra. Although Leatherhead Concert & Arts Society is not a SPAL user the collection is close to our hearts.
This would have been our 9th year of lunchtime concerts in Leatherhead's churches. With their closure we have had to adapt. We are a fairly mature bunch, so we are going to be careful well after lockdown ends.
Instead of live concerts we have gone online. We put up a selection of YouTube video links to performances that fit our usual concert profile. We are also taking advantage of the opportunity to listen to larger forces than would fit in the churches. We can hear part of a concerto with full orchestra rather than a piano reduction. We can listen to bigger organs than are found in Leatherhead. A brass band instead of a quartet.
Each Tuesday we email our 400 followers to tell them what we are preparing, and then, early on Thursday morning off goes the email with the link to the day's concert webpage.
We have been adding video links to our concert webpages since 2014. Back then one of our staunchest supporters became unwell and told us she was missing the concerts. At first we sent her links to videos and then realised more people might enjoy a YouTube concert, especially if illness, caring commitments, or work, prevented them from coming along at lunchtime. Now we always put videolinks on our webpages.
With regulars (that we know about) in Nottingham, Blackburn, and the Netherlands, Leatherhead's Lunchtime Concerts are likely to run both live and video even after we have all had COVID vaccinations. Right now, we are planning how we will take part in October's Mole Valley Arts e-Live Festival.
Listening alone is never the same as attending a live concert. We are doing what we can until it is safe to get together again. Imagine the happy faces when that happens!
List of weekly video concerts: musicinsurrey.co.uk
Written by Peter Steadman
Like many other theatres, professional and amateur, The Archway Theatre in Horley, The Miller Centre in Caterham and the Courtyard Theatre in Chipstead (all Surrey members of the prestigious Little Theatre Guild) have been closed because of the social distancing requirements of the pandemic.
All these theatres are suffering financially. With no income, there are still outgoings - light, heating, equipment maintenance and insurances - that have to be paid. The Archway Theatre is even harder hit, as rent for the Arches still needs to be found. The Archway Theatre has lost at least three production slots:
The York Realist by Peter Gill, set during the rehearsal period for the York Mystery Plays in rural Yorkshire in the 1960s, was due to open on the very same day that theatres were closed by the Government. Quite apart from all the work that had gone into this by the cast, director, technical and backstage crew, there was a considerable task to be faced in contacting members who had booked tickets to offer refunds. We understand that several people waived their refund, for which the theatre is deeply grateful.
This was to be followed by Hangmen by Martin McDonagh - a savagely black comedy about the end of judicial hanging in 1965. This play was already well into the rehearsal phase. Lines had been learnt, and many tickets already sold. The same process for refunding tickets was also required.
The third production to be impacted by the shutdown is Sunset at Villa Thalia by Alexi Kaye Campbell, a fascinating play set on the Greek island of Skiathos where an English couple are manipulated by a married duo they meet on holiday, but which has a deeper agenda - the exploration of America’s propensity to impose its will on individuals and whole societies. The play had been cast, and the first rehearsal held.
Of course, the knock-on effect is far greater than simply ‘losing’ three plays, especially as, at the time of writing, we have no idea when restrictions will end. Decisions will have to be made about how to put these plays back in the programme and how the balance of the year will be affected. The morale of the players is also a key element, although the Archway Council of Management has been doing sterling work, with films (some made by the theatre itself), online quizzes, information updates and posts on social media including WhatsApp and Facebook.
The planned programme will still go ahead, maybe later than envisaged, maybe in a different order. It’s an exciting mix, which includes, as well as the three plays detailed above, The Wind in the Willows, adapted from the Kenneth Grahame novel, A Comedy of Tenors, a hilarious sequel to the sell-out Lend Me a Tenor we put on in 2016, the highly acclaimed Pressure by David Haig, The Father by Florian Zeller, a profoundly moving play about dementia, Jeeves and Wooster (from the P G Wodehouse novels) and the Youth Workshop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, of course, the Studio Theatre, which has a wide range of entertainment lined up and ready for the moment when lock-down rules are lifted.
For more information, and entertainment visit: www.archwaytheatre.com
Written by Carol Hall