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Claire Murray, Fundraising and Communications Director at Sheffield Theatres shares her recent experiences of the World Snooker Championship pilot events in July
Welcoming audiences back to the Crucible Theatre
In the next few weeks, we’ll announce a new season of work that will bring live theatre back to Sheffield this autumn. As we prepare to invite and welcome audiences back to the Crucible, I’m drawing on every ounce of insight I can get my hands on, including our own experience of staging the three days of the World Snooker Championship in July this year. Whilst this pilot was for a sporting event, we learned some valuable lessons about welcoming our staff and audiences back to the theatre in a post-Covid world, and I’m sharing these in case they can help others with their plans too.
Returning to work
Our preparations for welcoming our teams back began many weeks before we had full confirmation that the tournament would be going ahead. We knew that we needed time to explore people’s concerns, make further changes to our plans and procedures and provide the reassurance that they needed.
We kicked everything off with a survey to all staff who would potentially be asked to work. This included questions to understand if they were in a vulnerable category and how they planned to travel to work.
The survey enabled us to know who was happy to return to work and allowed us to reassure those in a vulnerable category or in a household with someone in a vulnerable group that they wouldn’t be asked to work, as well as identifying those who had decided that they didn’t want to work. All of our front of house and most of our technical team had been on furlough since April and many of those who said they would return were nevertheless nervous about coming back. Some of our colleagues were particularly worried about making the shift from being around no-one to being back around groups of people.
Our HR team made personal contact with colleagues who were going to return to work. Chatting to them on the phone proved to be a great way to allay their fears. We planned a gradual return to work, giving everyone a chance to come back to the building and adjust to the new way of working through a full induction and training plan. We required that staff completed a health questionnaire in advance of their return (7 days and 24 hours before coming back) and no one was permitted to return until this was complete. Backstage access was limited to people who had been tested as part of World Snooker’s protocol. Members of our team who had been tested wore armbands and were able to access backstage as well as front of house areas. Our staff worked in bubbles and had designated areas for breaks. The feedback from colleagues who returned to work was overwhelmingly positive with many of our team saying that it felt safer coming to work than going to the supermarket! The induction and briefings that everyone received were highly rated and the confidence this gave our team shone through in the experience they offered customers.
The original tournament in April/May was very well sold. When it eventually became clear that, were an audience to be permitted, they would need to be socially distanced, we used Spektrix’s Ticket Converter tool to offer customers a transfer to 2021, a refund or the option to hang on and see if they could come to this year’s event. The process reduced the number of spectators to a level that meant that when we were given the green light for audiences, we went on sale with the remaining socially distanced capacity for this year's tournament using bubble seating. As a pilot event, we had to ensure that all bookers were presented with and agreed to a pre-event liaison document that outlined the risks and requirements for audience members. This document was embedded in the booking process and customers could only complete their transaction once they had given their agreement.
As part of managing distancing on the day and in line with guidance from the Sports Ground Safety Authority, audiences were queued on Tudor Square in front of the Crucible. Whilst queuing they were asked for their test and trace details and then brought forward by the World Snooker team to have their tickets scanned by our front of house staff who wore both visors and masks. Once inside, they were asked to use hand sanitiser before moving through the foyers, where entry doors were identified using floor markings and customers were encouraged to proceed directly into the auditorium. The process had the potential to feel cold and regimented, however our team, full of pride at being back and confidence from their training, were warm, friendly and good humoured and that came across to audiences who have fed back how welcome and safe they felt.
When the first match got underway, it was magical to hear a round of applause echo around the Crucible for the first time since March! Though there were fewer people in the audience, there was still a great atmosphere; a dizzying sense of excitement at the joy of a live experience.
Looking to the future
We have been listening to audiences throughout the closure period, to understand how they are feeling about returning to the theatre. Snooker affirmed how important it is that we afford the same time and attention to our colleagues, many of whom are returning to work after long absences. We’ll continue to survey staff to understand how everyone is feeling about coming back/being back at work and we’ll also provide everyone with a full induction and briefing to help them feel comfortable and confident in the buildings.
The Snooker Championship was the first event on which we issued e-tickets and used scanners. They were simple to set up and easy to use and our team were able to get to grips with them so quickly. We’re planning to transfer all future bookings over to e-tickets and they will be the default delivery method going forward. In future, we’re going to use the scanners to give our FOH team information about the customer in front of them, and we’re excited to see how this can help us advance our audience loyalty programme. We’ll also move to collecting Track and Trace details in Spektrix, as this will make the process of bringing customers into the building much quicker than it was with manual data collection!
We’ve made many changes to the building and to our procedures to become Covid secure and we’re lucky that the Crucible has large foyers and stairways that allow for one-way routing. We’re confident about the measures we have in place to meet the government’s guidelines. One of the things we noticed during the snooker is how significant health and safety became in our messaging. In the case of the pilot event, there was so much we had to communicate about the protocols and procedures that you could forget that you were coming to something fun and exciting! As we prepare for our own reopening, we’ll be thinking about how we communicate about safety whilst at the same time building on our customers’ sense of anticipation and excitement. Fundamentally, we want the experience to be informed by the brand and we’ll be working on how we express all of the safety measures and procedures in place in a way that’s in-keeping with inviting audiences back for a great night out.
This is article is one of a series in the 'Steps Toward Reopening' series. Read about the experiences of the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre team.
Images courtesy of Sheffield Theatres.