Wales Millennium Centre went dark on 17 March 2020 and won’t open again until 2021. Musicals, plays, this year’s Festival of Voice, family events, exhibitions and tours have been cancelled.
A bit like The Grinch stealing Christmas, the Coronavirus has robbed the Centre of its life force and its fun.
What is particularly upsetting is that many of our wonderful staff’s jobs are at risk because we will be closed for such a long period.
We had to make this decision to ensure that the organisation survives the crisis and can re-open in 2021 but for each person affected, this is an individual tragedy and, for all of us, it is truly heartbreaking.
During this difficult time, we need our imaginations fired more than ever. Therefore, the fact that Wales Millennium Centre cannot do what it does best and bring joy to people’s lives is very sad.
What I love more than anything about this iconic venue is that it enriches lives and is an incredible force for good.
When we go to watch a musical, opera, play or cabaret show, not only do we get the wonder of the performance itself but also enjoy the anticipation and excitement of the build up to the event – it is something that I, personally, am missing very much.
We're committed to ensuring that as many people as possible can experience this magic and access the work across our stages, through our community ticketing, accessible performances, and initiatives such as ‘pay what you decide’ scratch nights and it is devastating that, for now, we can’t continue with this work.
Our beautiful building in the heart of Cardiff Bay is iconic - an important tourist attraction and one of the most photographed locations in Wales, drawing in over 1.6 million visitors a year.
We host hundreds of schoolchildren on tours and thousands of families at events during the school holidays and the Centre also generates over £70 million to the local economy annually, and this closure is likely to have a significant impact on businesses in the bay and across Cardiff.
Our charity work
Importantly, Wales Millennium Centre is also a remarkable arts organisation and a charity whose work focuses on listening and working with young people and giving them skills for life and skills for work – with around 15,000 young people participating in our work over the past year.
Through programmes such as Radio Platfform and Together Stronger, we have been working hard to encourage the next generation to amplify their voices and develop skills they might not be able to develop elsewhere.
We also invest in and create our own productions. Our musical theatre production Only the Brave has been streamed during lockdown and enjoyed by thousands of viewers.
Immediately prior to lockdown we produced The Beauty Parade with Kaite O’Reilly, which packed out the Weston Studio and garnered rave reviews.
In February, our production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d was adapted by Ayeesha Menon to a Bollywood setting and enjoyed a very successful run in Mumbai.
Later that month, Carys Eleri’s Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff) packed out Soho Theatre in London and has picked up an award at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
We also highlight and support Welsh writers, actors and the Welsh language and aim to keep developing Welsh talent and showcase the wealth of this talent to the world stage.
One of our highlights last year was hosting the Urdd Eisteddfod in May – with thousands of people from across Wales visiting and hundreds of children competing on the Donald Gordon Stage. A far cry from May 2020 with our doors closed and empty building.
And, of course our local communities are at the heart of everything we do. In March alone before lockdown we held two fantastic community events – celebrating Wales diverse cultures on St David’s Day at Dy Gymru and a community banquet to mark International Women’s Day.
During this crisis we cannot put shows on our stages or hold events, but we want to be able to do so again as soon as possible.
We also want the many young people desperate for the life-changing skills we provide to get them; and for writers, actors, set designers and everyone who helps create our productions to be able to showcase their talent to the world.
To ensure that we can keep connecting with audiences and work with as many artists and creatives as we can, we are doing our very best to develop our home-grown productions.
We are currently working with Hamed Amiri on a stage version of his book published this month The Boy with Two Hearts - a powerful tale of the Amiri family and their journey from Herat to Cardiff and a love letter to the NHS.
We are also researching new projects including a family show for Christmas 2022, following the success of our Christmas co-production RED with Cardiff-based company Likely Story in December 2019, and examining ways to create a virtual arts event in the autumn.
We are also trying our very best to entertain our audiences while we are ‘dark’ and are ready to have plenty to offer when we open.
Despite lockdown, we've maintained the operation of our youth led radio station, Radio Platfform. There are challenges – such as trying to raise money to buy good quality microphones while the team are broadcasting from home.
An online youth editorial board is also being set up to co-design content for screen and live performance and, if we can raise the money, writing and self-publishing. We will do everything we can to give the young people we work with the confidence to succeed in the world.
This is only possible because of the generosity of our audience, members, and donors. Words do not express how grateful we are for every pound donated, but nevertheless 'Diolch yn fawr'.
The Centre is much more than what we see on stage. It is a place where artists and performers can imagine and develop ideas. A place where, often disadvantaged, young people learn new skills and have their aspirations raised. And it is a place where communities come together to celebrate their cultures
Wales Millennium Centre belongs to all of us and our work benefits us all. Whatever it takes, we will continue being a force for good.
If you are able to donate in any way, then you will be making that force so much more powerful and truly making a difference to people’s lives. Every penny we receive will be re-invested in our charitable and artistic work.
Most of all I want to see our doors open again, so that everyone can be welcomed back to enjoy and participate in the fun and wonder that is Wales Millennium Centre.
Peter Swinburn, Chairman Wales Millennium Centre