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Act now to save our theatres…or it’s curtains for good

I WAS just six years old when I ­realised the stage was the only place for me.

It might have only been singing in a primary school competition, but I knew performing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

After three years at performing arts college, I achieved that childhood dream when I spent nine months at the Savoy Theatre in the West End playing one of the leading ladies in Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5: The Musical, before touring regional ­theatres across the UK.

It was a pinch-me moment walking out on to the stage for the first time at the Savoy and thinking of all the famous acts that had trodden those boards before me.

Theatres are special places. The cast connects with its audience — it’s immersive.

And that feeling never left me throughout all my time there.

But today, that seems like a lifetime ago. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the country into a crisis that doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

Yet while many ­industries are receiving support, guidance and funding from the Government, the theatre industry is at risk of being forgotten — and it’s no exaggeration to say we will potentially end up losing a generation of talent.

As it is for ­thousands of others in my industry, my next role, playing the lead, Campbell, in Bring It On: The Musical — which I should have been in rehearsals for now — has been postponed until next year.

Venues across the country do not know when, or even if, they will be able to open their doors again.

The entire theatre industry, including writers, producers, costume designers and front-of-house staff, are in limbo.

And it’s not just those people who are in trouble — there is a much wider supply chain who all rely on healthy box office sales to pay their bills. Lots of those are small firms who create jobs and provide apprenticeships for the next ­generation. All are in trouble.

Thousands of performing arts students are graduating across the UK with no jobs to go to.

The whole country has suffered and I understand that the people in charge have some very difficult decisions to make.

There are no easy answers as we all try to live with a cruel virus that has stolen lives, jobs and livelihoods. But the performing arts, a sector that provides so much joy to people, is facing mass redundancies, venue closures and a lost generation of talent.

There has been a focus on the West End, the world’s biggest and best theatre ­district, but much-loved regional theatres from Southampton to Inverness are in no less trouble.

It’s easy to forget just how much of a presence the arts have in our lives, whether it’s going out to live shows or staying home to watch television or listen to our favourite singers.

Most of us will have spent lockdown watching Netflix or other streaming ­services, but they wouldn’t exist without performers, writers and everyone else involved in the creative process.

And most of your favourite actors and actresses have worked in theatre at some point in their careers. Often theatres are where performers truly hone their craft. It’s a breeding ground of talent.

For example, Sir Anthony Hopkins’s        first stage role was at the Palace Theatre in Swansea, and Dame Judi Dench — who spoke so passionately last week, calling on the Government to support the arts — made her stage debut at ­Liverpool’s Royal Court ­Theatre.

I am in a fortunate position compared to a lot of my friends in musical theatre.

Appearing on Love Island in 2017 allowed me to build commercial ­relationships with ­companies that have given me extra revenue streams

Appearing on Love Island in 2017 allowed me to build commercial ­relationships with ­companies that have given me extra revenue streams.

However, I know of so many wonderful performers who have been forced to move back home with their parents and look for work in coffee shops and cafes.

I don’t think people realise how much they will miss theatres and live music venues until they are gone.

But I really fear that if the situation doesn’t improve soon, we are going to lose a whole lot of talented people.

There are huge funding challenges for theatres too and it simply won’t be ­financially viable for every venue to reopen immediately, even when it is safe.

When shows start casting again, they won’t be able to drop everything and race to a quick audition any more.

Our performing arts colleges will also have to adapt, and that could mean increased tuition fees, which might rule out a large section of budding singers and actors from pursuing their dreams.

The entire industry is at risk of ­collapsing if drastic measures aren’t taken to help us through this crisis.

I don’t believe all is lost, however. I think, given the right support, we can protect the creativity and talent that makes the UK one of the most special places in the world for artists.

We have seen fresh and innovative ways that the industry has lived on ­during lockdown. Initiatives such as ­virtual concerts have helped us stay creative while we couldn’t leave our homes.

There’s no doubt of the commitment from the people in the performing arts. But they are hurting like never before.

It’s time for the Government to step in and provide some financial support, like it has done for so many other industries — before it’s too late.

JODIE COMER has become a total inspiration for young women in showbiz – and it’s brilliant to see her continuing to triumph.

I loved Killing Eve but her latest part, as Lesley in the new BBC versions of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, shows there’s even more to her skill than I’d previously realised – which has rightly won her rave reviews.

On top of her incredible talent she’s beautiful, sophisticated and seems totally down to earth – no wonder she’s cemented herself as one of our best and brightest actresses.

And she’s not even 30.

THE huge spike in people getting a puppy during lockdown is causing concerns there might be a lot of unwanted dogs when life returns to normal.

I can’t believe anybody could want to go back to living without one once you’ve brought a pup into your life.

I can confidently say that little Oreo is now the only man I will ever need in my life.

He’s changed my world and I can’t imagine ever feeling complete without him there.

I live on my own, so he’s really got me through these past few months.

We’ve done everything together. from exercising and watching the TV to going to bed at night.

Far from people getting sick of their dogs, I think dogs will be far more likely to get sick of their owners first.

LIKE many people I can’t wait to get myself back to the bar this Saturday night – and I’ve been planning a proper evening out with the girls for months.

Hopefully we’re heading into central London for a few drinks together and a catch-up, which everyone is absolutely desperate for.

I’ve watched every minute of Ricky Gervais which Netflix has to offer and all the TV I can manage.

But what I really need now is a bit of face- to-face time with my close friends – all safely and within the rules, of course.

But I’ve got one big fear – and it isn’t catching Covid.

It’s that whenever you spend a few weeks planning a night out, it tends to fall a bit flat.

A spontaneous wild one is always so much better.

So how can Saturday possibly live up to four months of hope and expectation?

I’ve got a horrible feeling we’ll all end up home in bed by 10.

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