Only our Security team are still on site at Wales Millennium Centre. They say the building feels soulless without its people...
There can be up to 1,200 people working on the site – which is a cultural campus to nine organisations - on any given day.
Temporarily departed are the staff, artists, volunteers, communities, young people and audiences that make up what Gwyneth Lewis’ poetic inscription on the front of the building expectantly described as ‘Ffwrnais Awen’ - inspiration’s furnace.
Right now, the corridors might be quiet but at home we are working hard communicating with customers, talking with the producers of touring shows and artists with whom we’ve been developing exciting new work, helping staff and residents work from home where possible, supporting our fantastic volunteers and keeping as many people working as we can.
Our staff have been brilliant. And we are doing our best to stay connected – our Radio Platfform programme is now broadcasting from bedrooms, we are keeping our Open Office going online for artists, we've shared two of our own productions online (Only the Brave and Man to Man – which was shown as part of Wales Arts Review’s Digithon fundraiser) and we’re exploring new ways to connect with each other and the wider community.
This crisis affects some more than others - in the arts sector, and in all walks of life. Everything will not be fine.
The best we can do is fight for ways to continue to sustain creative work but also to reflect, to recognise this is a precarious time, a time filled with unknowns and to remember that hope comes from the power to make change, and the gift of that possibility.
For us liveness is what matters, connecting real people, in real time with real stories and experiences.
It will take us a while to understand what that means, to be ready for when we and other theatres reopen so that we can reignite the joy of making things happen, for when audiences feel ready to gather, share, and celebrate those live experiences again. What we do know is that the future will be very different for us.
We will have to change...
Right now, we are working out how to survive this as an organisation but we also need to lay new foundations.
Over the past five years we have slowly been building a new way of working at Wales Millennium Centre and we will have to take time to rebuild slowly too.
As we try to reschedule big commercial shows into our main Donald Gordon Theatre, we are also looking at the models of co-construction, co-production and participatory budgeting that we have been developing with communities.
It will be vital for us to find exciting, meaningful, resilient and democratic ways forward together, and we aim to be ready when we can.
The impact will be long-lasting so to some extent we are biding time, waiting to see what emerges. But we know that the luxury time affords isn’t available to everyone, especially those fighting for the lives of loved ones or for livelihoods.
Social distancing is a paradox. There is not much that is social about being distant. And it is very hard to be social in a meaningful way online, unless there is something within the experience that is rich, connected, and live.
While we are all staying safe, physically distant from each other, we are reminded of how fundamental the arts are, how telling stories through words, songs, music, dance, animation, not only entertains and provokes us but connects us as well, particularly when we gather together to experience it. That is when it is at its most life-affirming.
We can’t hope to figure it all out just yet, and confusion often comes before the best ideas. We need to hold our nerve. Creativity can flourish in uncertainty and a “we” that previously didn’t appear to exist or was lying in hibernation can emerge.
Hopefully this will be born out of humility and compassion and, from it, both a collective power and individual creative agency.
We will need to grasp whatever opportunity this power gives us to influence the future and we need to make it count not just for art and artists but for Future Generations and society as a whole, for the stories we want to tell including those of the many voices that too often go unheard - voices we may not find broadcasting on social media in this crisis.