They often say that the show should continue. Even more so for theaters that have had to endure some of the worst restrictions, far worse than some of the entertainment sector. In fact, audience numbers at the Hammond Theater in West London dropped from over 12,000 a year to 19 March 2020 to none in the following year. I sat down with Mr Matthew Thompson, a technician at the theater, to talk about the impact of the last 24 months.
What do you think has been the biggest challenge under Covid?
“The biggest challenge for us as a theater has been to adapt to the virtual environment. It’s clear to move our skills out of live [sic] for a virtually produced environment with multiple cameras and live mix. When we started this, it was like “let’s see if this works”, and after the first visitor event we had to adapt and find a more efficient way to do it and streamline the process. From there, several virtual events emerged – video recordings, concerts – which edited them to be sent out to parents at a later date. The biggest thing was to change our focus and competencies. Hammond’s capacity actually increased in the Covid year compared to a non-Covid year – this was because we had to spend a lot more time configuring a virtual event – for any event it was somewhere between 2 hours of editing and 12 hours of editing. For example, we did Brainstorm, and because it was a little over an hour and we shot it over three cameras and had to do a sound mix, etc., it took us about 30 hours to edit. ”
Because what you had to do under Covid was very different than before, were you able to adapt quickly?
“We have been able to adapt quite quickly, one of my colleagues, Mr Elliot, came from working for the BBC” – [Did he?] – “yes, he used to work for the BBC, so he has a wealth of knowledge in the world of production and also in the theater. I have come from what we would call live production, so live multi-camera footage, where as preferably from 2 to 8 cameras at once live to monitors, etc. the only thing we really did was take a set of skills we already knew and find a way to fit what we were looking to produce. ”
Where do you see things going in the next 12 months?
“Obviously, it’s always unpredictable with a virus like this, but we’re at a point now where we know how to effectively run a live event and incorporate the virtual side of it – for example, the RSE speech, that took place the second night for the parents we were able to make it personal while we livestreamed it with two cameras.We have moved our setup over to have two static cameras on the circle in front and there is also a place where we can place our large camera – it allows us to still run an audience at full capacity, if necessary, and be able to livestream it at the same time.So we’ve found the middle ground that fits 90 “% of the events. There may be occasional events where we may have to put a camera down where the audience is sitting, but at this point we have found a good balance.”
If you could tell yourself something two years ago, just before the pandemic hit, what would you say?
Be prepared that most employees and individuals to be livestreamed have never worked with a camera before. So be patient, and be prepared to guide them a little more.
Many thanks to Mr Thompson for spending time with me. Hammond Theater can be found at https://www.thehammondtheatre.co.uk/.