We recently caught up with Suzie Lowe from the Dennis Lowe Theatre Company based in Felixstowe, Suffolk. They are well known for producing quality entertainment for more than 50 years, and their upcoming project is a socially distanced pantomime of Cinderella, hopefully running from the 19th December-3rd January 2021 at the Spa Pavilion Theatre, Felixstowe. Despite the recent pause on live events, Suzie is determined to get the show onto the stage and we had a great chat about the show, safety measures, the arts industry and more.
Let’s start with an introduction: tell us a bit about the company, its history, where you’re based and who’s involved…
Yes, of course! The company is based in Felixstowe, and it’s been around for 50 odd years. My dad originally created the company, and when he passed away I took over. We produce pantomimes and more recently, some summer shows and full-scale musicals, and all of this is performed at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe.
Understandably, it has been a difficult year for the arts and theatre. How important are live events to you personally, and what have you been doing behind the scenes to ensure that your company is secure moving forward?
Well, it is my life and I don’t have any other jobs apart from involving and being involved with the arts. I [also] teach dance, singing, drama and performing arts so that is what I do. To not have the arts right now is quite heartbreaking actually. It’s my living, so without it, I don’t and can’t work.
Behind the scenes, we’re still rehearsing for the Panto. Obviously with going into lockdown, we’re probably going to have to go into online rehearsals, which will be quite interesting. Going forward, you can only do what you can do, so we’re prepping in the hope that we can stay positive and put on the shows as and when we can.
Yeah, that sounds good. Obviously, with the recent lockdown news, do you think you are still able to go ahead?
Obviously we don’t know what Boris is going to say or do at this point. At the moment we had started rehearsing, we’ve had to put a slight pause to it, but we are going to carry on meeting online for the time being. If we are able in December to go back into our tier 1 world, then we’ll be able to have two weeks, so it’s possible and the show will go ahead, just as long as we’re allowed out!
Can you want to tell us a bit about the show too? How it’s working, and how the ‘social distancing’ is going…
Yes, so we are doing Cinderella this year, and it’s a lot smaller so everything is more safely distanced, both on stage and off stage, including the auditorium. When you purchase your tickets, the website automatically socially distances the seats for you, which is really cool. I know we’ve got hand sanitiser stations everywhere. There’s lots of ventilation and toilet access. There are screens everywhere throughout the building so that it will be safe for staff and audience members.
As far as cast members are concerned, they’re all in their friendship bubbles anyway, which is really lovely and works quite well when we’re in our tier 1 government guidelines. As for the show, nothing massively changes. We’re still able to do audience participation, and we’re still able to have all the fun, laughter, dancing and singing. Probably the only thing that’s missing from this year’s show is the pantomime babes, as we’re not allowed to have the children at the moment.
I did notice as well, you’re hopefully doing a spring production. Do you have any plans with that, or is it too uncertain to say?
At the moment we’ve got Shrek the musical in place, and we’ve got another great show [Kinky Boots] in place and a summer season show too. Though I don’t want to say too much at the moment because we just don’t know what’s going to happen, so it’s quite tricky. But all these shows will happen at some point, just how and when I’m not entirely sure.
Yeah, that’s completely understandable. You did mention it briefly, but what are the other Covid-19 safety measures have you got in place at the theatre?
When you come in, there will be a one-way system through the theatre. Everyone will be shielded and masked up, and there will be sanitizer stations at all entrances. In the restaurant, they’ve got the screens up between tables so you could sit and have a meal, and up until the last few days that was still happening. There’s also a one-way system through the auditorium, and social distanced seating is happening automatically through the ticketing system. Plus, extra ventilation, and it’s a big space. You can easily manoeuvre around the building, and everyone’s going to be really safe in that theatre.
That’s great to hear. How are you sort of finding getting people back into the theatre, in terms of ticket sales and response?
It’s quite slow at the moment. I mean, people are interested. People definitely want to get out and about, and just have some light relief down at the theatre to see something that isn’t normal life, and just to enjoy with their family. But at the same time, because of what’s going on government wise and with us shutting down, we probably are going to see a slight pause in ticket sales because nobody wants to spend out as we just don’t know what’s going to happen. I do know that whatever happens, the panto will go ahead at some point, so I’m kind of urging people to carry on getting their tickets because it will happen, one way or another, and nobody’s going to lose out.
Another big thing for the industry has been the culture relief funds, and we know that the Felixstowe Spa itself got awarded a grant – did you gain anything from this, and how beneficial is such a grant, would you say?
As a company, we didn’t, but because of the rapport and our friendship that we have with the spa, we are in there with that funding. And oh my goodness, without sounding too dramatic, it has literally probably saved the theatre’s life. It’s a privately run theatre, so without that government grant to help, it’s impossible to keep the building running. It costs a lot to run a building like the Spa, even before you consider what to put on stage, so this funding is a life-saver.
What do you think the future of the industry holds and how can the community itself sort of keep supporting the arts?
The arts will survive. It might take some time, but it will definitely survive. We just need to keep supporting it by buying the tickets, because these shows will happen. We may just have to wait for it. Also, when the restaurants open, go and use the facilities or if there’s a show that you like, buy the tickets and go there and do that. I think that’s the only way to support the places. In addition, watching social media and help by sharing things to get the word out that the place is a working building and it’s still going.
What made you want to take the risk of putting a show on in these times?
I think I just felt like somebody had to. With everything that’s going on, I just felt that it was a necessity to at least try. At the end of the day, if it wasn’t to happen, then at least we can carry on knowing that we’ve given it a go. Plus financially, we were in a position to be able to put the show on at low costs so it seemed silly not to give a try.
That’s amazing, love the passion. Finally, tell us why you love what you do and what would you like to say to potential audiences?
I love what I do. I don’t know anything different if I’m honest with you. It’s something I’ve grown up with in my family, so I’ve done it all my life. I just love live theatre. There’s nothing better than coming to see a show, leaving all your worries at the door and just having a really good time. I would simply say the same to anybody else. It’s live theatre, it’s so brilliant and you never really know what’s going to happen, anything could go wrong. It’s exciting, and especially with pantomime – it’s fun, it’s silly and you can come to have a laugh and a giggle. Along with all those emotions you’ve got when you come to see the pantomime.
Thank you again to Suzie for her time, we wish all involved great success.