FOREST Forge theatre in Ringwood has been showing its resilience during the coronavirus pandemic - continuing to deliver work to the community.

The theatre company, which has been running for nearly 40 years and is a charity, has been adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic by connecting with audiences through an online programme and holding virtual meetings for its participation groups.

It delivers participation classes, creates its own productions, delivers theatre to communities, and hosts visiting shows at their studio, which closed to the public in March due to the government restrictions.

Sharon Lawless, Forest Forge Theatre’s CEO/creative producer, said the pandemic has “knocked out” its earned income as performances and upcoming events and participation work had to be halted. She says it was also a “huge disappointment” for its participation groups, especially for youth theatre members who had been rehearsing a show.

“But I feel we have actually grasped the challenge. The first few weeks were a bit weird and we were assessing what to do and what was going on in the industry and digitally what we need to do because we had never done that before,” she said.

“I was really keen to keep the creative team on board, our focused learning and education officer, we did slightly go down on hours but that was okay. Then we could deliver work.

“It was really important to still be able to deliver something. The really important thing was to keep in contact and engage with our audiences and our participants.”

The theatre created and ran a six-week online theatre course called ‘See it, Be it, Write it’. It is now offering the six-week course in full to download as well as offering a series of artist talks on Zoom, which are free to join.

The youth theatre groups have also been able to stay in touch online during lockdown and take part in virtual activities.

It is unclear when Forest Forge will be able to reopen and it awaits further government guidance.

Sharon said: “Every theatre is facing a similar challenge at the moment and everybody needs to raise funding in some way to get to the end of the financial year. We don’t know when shows are going to be open in any theatre."

“Forest Forge, we are very resilient and flexible. We can create work anywhere. We don’t have a massive auditorium, we have a small studio space, but our work has also been about getting out in the van and getting into the community - we can be very creative with that.”

During the pandemic, Forest Forge has been able to get emergency funding from the Arts Council as well as a rate relief grant from New Forest District Council, which Sharon said “takes us up to September” and has helped support the theatre.

Sharon also welcomed the announcement of the £1.57b government support package for museums, galleries and theatres, adding: “It was such a relief to know that the arts industry has been taken seriously and recognised for everything that it does for the whole community.”

Forest Forge has an online page for donations. “It would be amazing if people could support us.” said Sharon. “People have been donating, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that and how much that is helping us."

“ We are right in the middle of the community, we know the community, they now us and we want to carry on delivering to them and delivering training and having young people in the building. If people can donate all of that absolutely helps. It gets us a little further along the financial year.

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