Oxford University’s Saïd Business School has reached an agreement with the Oxford Playhouse allowing it to use the Beaumont Street theatre’s auditorium to host lectures for its Masters of Financial Economics students. The theatre remains shut due to the impact of coronavirus.

The agreement is initially just for Michaelmas term, but Playhouse Chief Executive Louise Chantal says it may be extended “depending on the feasibility and practicality of presenting live theatre to socially-distanced audiences in the New Year”.

A spokesperson for the Saïd Business School told Cherwell that they “recognise that the Playhouse wants to return to operating as a full-time theatre as soon as is practical, but this arrangement allows the building to be used in the meantime”.

The Business School has had to expand available teaching spaces as a result of social distancing measures which require group sizes to be reduced from 80 to 20. Many of their lectures have been moved online, but a spokesperson says: “In-person teaching is a quintessential part of the Oxford experience, and we would like to restore this for students, while keeping them and our wider community safe.

“The Playhouse gives us space for larger groups than elsewhere, with 2m distancing, and we will observe the same health measures that we do in other buildings including one way flow systems and temperature checks on entrance.”

Whilst theatres have been allowed to re-open since mid-August, the Oxford Playhouse is one of many theatres which has decided that it is not economically viable to re-open with social distancing in place.

Louise Chantal said that social distancing would mean cutting capacity from 632 to 140 for couples spaced two metres apart, or to 170 for one metre.

Despite the agreement providing some income for the Playhouse and meaning that more staff can return to work, Ms Chantal told Cherwell that the “future remains uncertain because we cannot second guess audience behaviour and when (or if) people will want to come back to live performances”.

As well as receiving “a nominal rent” from the Business School, Ms Chantal says that the theatre is also waiting to hear the result of a bid for additional funding from the Culture Recovery Fund.

Ms Chantal adds: “We have been overwhelmed by the public response to our Playhouse Plays On appeal, which has raised over £170,000 so far.” She also credits the Government’s furlough scheme for enabling them to continue to employ 85% of their permanent staff throughout the closure period.

The Playhouse is trying to adapt to the post-Covid world with socially-distanced performances, and lots of digital work including 10 new commissions and co-commissions this Autumn.

Productions put on by Oxford University students, which are sometimes shown at the Oxford Playhouse, are having to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus.

President of Oxford University Dramatic Society, Alasdair Linn, told Cherwell: “OUDS is currently working with the University Drama Officer and other University drama organisations to offer opportunities within the regulations. At this stage, we hope to go ahead with a reconfigured Cuppers, and we have a few other opportunities in the pipeline for all students.”

Image credit to Oxford Playhouse/ Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0.