Jen Raith

Stage Manager – 9 to 5 Musical – The Savoy Theatre, London

I’m at my Mum’s. It was the safest option. We’ve been up here since the week the theatres closed, around three days before the lockdown. I think for a lot of folk – especially those with family – they’ve gained time that they wouldn’t normally have had. Mum’s a nurse and she works part time at the hospital still so she’s been worried about patient contact but she’s been nowhere near Covid patients because the hospital where she works is really well organised.

I went back to work when my daughter was ten weeks old. They managed to put me back in part time which was ideal. It’s the future of things I think as well. Before this all kicked off, the management were talking to me about future projects and being part time – letting somebody else start it and go through tech then coming in afterwards, even as an Assistant Stage Manager (I wouldn’t have minded) – before she (Phoebe) goes to preschool anyway. There are a lot of employers who can’t see how it can work especially as a stage manager but thankfully the team were very willing to do it help out to get us back. Matt Cullum (general manager, ATG) being a parent himself wanted to be an advocate of the job share. That approach was gaining traction and I was enjoying going part time and working out how to do it with Phoebe. That’s all been quashed now though! It’s just too uncertain and it’s not just worth the headache on top of trying to bring up a little one.

It’s been lovely being a full time Mum. I’m not going to complain. She’s a lovely baby – so chilled out. Because we’re not at any toddler groups or anything I have been putting on programs from the BBC so she can see the other babies. You know this: dealing with a baby is a lot easier than dealing with actors that is for sure.

We’re lucky because Martin’s a doer. He was with FOYS up at Harry Potter on the Monday when we were sent home and by Wednesday evening he had a new job. He ended up working for DPD doing overnight shifts for about three months. It sent him loopy but he just had to find work. He’s just been picking up odds and sods like everyone else at the moment just to keep money coming in so he just stayed in London and we haven’t seen him for four months. Four months in a baby’s life is big you know. She was seven months when she left and now she’s nearly a year old. We video call every day but you can’t get a sense of what she’s like now physically. We’re going back down south on Thursday and he’s going to see a huge change in her – all these steps that she’s taken since she’s been up here you know, crawling, all these words and she’s starting to toddle now. It was the most sensible thing to do though.

Nicola Sturgeon has been playing it sensibly safe and we’ve felt very secure up here. I think it would have been a very different story staying down south with Martin going to work every day during the spike, not knowing who he’s meeting. I’d be very different person. We’re still wearing our masks and gloves but I think I would be more neurotic about it if I’d been at home in London.

We’d gone in to work and had set up the show on the Monday and we were going about our business as normal. It was odd because we were all getting information on the news but we didn’t really realise the extent of it I don’t think. They had been saying it was a bit like SARS and it’s one of those things that will just disappear and then it was ramping up and getting more serious in Italy. There had been word that London might lock down but again there was nothing one the news, nothing from the government to say this was about to happen. We were getting word throughout the afternoon that folk were being told not to go in to work. Cameron Mackintosh shut Hamilton in the afternoon and Nica Burns followed suit. Harry Potter was another one – Sonia Friedman had Pulled theatres on Broadway the week before so she was prepared.

At five o’clock, Sarah (Whalley, Company manager) came down and said “Matt’s on his way down. I think we’re about to get some news”. We then knew what that meant but the cast were thinking “Oh my god we’re shutting early!” because usually when the general manager comes to make an announcement that’s what it is. When he arrived he talked for about ten minutes, explaining the discussions that had been going on during the day with producers and Westminster. Matt told us that due to circumstances we couldn’t let audiences in and they wanted to make sure that we were safe. At that point he didn’t have any more information – not even about the rest of the week – and he said they would be in touch.

Within the hour, the iron had dropped and everybody went outside and headed to the pub. We only went for a couple because all of a sudden there was this reality hit that it was actually getting serious because we’d watched it all on the news and we knew there was a severity to this but we didn’t know how severe. Sitting with us all talking over that pint, it suddenly drummed it home that it was bigger than we had all expected. I had all the ASMs with me and they were all asking what I thought was going to happen. My opinion at that point (and it turned out to be correct) was that I could imagine the producers being quite frightened because they’d not been told by the government to shut down and they wouldn’t know where the or not the insurances would cover them. I did say at this point I thought it would be a couple of months. The fear suddenly set in. We all had the same question: what’s going to happen next?

We kept in touch over the coming days. I went in on the Wednesday to do a tidy up of batteries and make it safe but there were minimal folk in. And coming in from Beckenham – well, you know what it’s like in the centre of London at six in the morning on a Sunday: it’s dead. Well that’s what it was like in the middle of the week at ten o’clock on a Wednesday. It was bizarre – like 28 days later. I had to walk over Waterloo bridge that day and it was deserted. Really odd. There was nobody on the train, nobody on the tube. That was my weird moment in all of this. It was abandonment, like everybody had just jumped away. I was away by one o’clock in the afternoon. I said goodbye to everybody and then just had to go with the flow.

I don’t reckon I will go back to doing what I did before. Not right now. I don’t want the uncertainty as a freelancer. I’ve always felt lucky doing what I do – I’ve had no gaps: I’ve always gone from job to job and I’ve met some amazing people – but the kind of things we can deal with on our own without family involved I can’t deal with any more with my daughter. I just need to have a break with all of this going on. In a weird way it’s come at a good time in her life: she’s a baby, we’re not having to worry about schools and things. It’s given us time to spend together and get through some of these milestones so in a very strange way, the universe has worked in our favour because we can take a break and take a step back and use this time for family. And that’s the way it should be.

It’s an odd situation that none of us will ever ever be in again. It’s going to be so hard to explain to people. Not even in World War II did all the theatres shut down. That’s bonkers. And we’re not the only industry that’s been affected but we’re so lucky that as a community in theatre we band together so well. Look at what we’ve managed to do: we’ve made it onto the news, the unions have been on. There are thousands of people in the UK who don’t have that camaraderie so we’re very lucky to have each other.

With any luck the theatre world will come back bigger and stronger because we’ve now got the opportunity to start from the ground up again and I’d rather come back into an industry at a level where everybody’s comfortable and you’re not fighting for the jobs. My CV’s not going anywhere. I’ll just take everybody for pints. Thanks how my career started: by taking everybody for a pint so I’ll just carry on doing that again!

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