Sunderland Empire among live venues that can reopen from May 17: Theatre in talks over West End level shows

Sunderland’s venues are looking forward to raising the curtain on live performances once more after being closed for more than a year.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 11:47 am

While some areas of the arts and entertainment industry, such as museums and smaller venues, enjoyed a brief reopening last year, the city’s larger live performance venues have had to remain closed since the first Lockdown in March 2020.

Welcome news was received this week, however, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that, as part of Phase Three in the easing of restrictions, theatres and concert halls can open their doors from May 17.

The Sunderland Empire has been a huge miss in the city and hasn’t hosted a live performance since March 14, 2020, with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake proving a swan song before Lockdown hit.

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The city's larger live venues will finally be able to reopen in 2021.

Last summer its iconic tower was lit red as part of the national Light It In Red campaign to show solidarity with the struggling arts sector.

Although finally having a reopening date is certainly positive news, logistically the theatre industry has much work to do in rescheduling tours when the producers can finally get them back on the road.

Marie Nixon, general manager at Sunderland Empire, says talks are taking place to stage West End level performances once more.

“We would like to thank everyone who has supported the Sunderland Empire across the last year,” she said. “We are hugely encouraged by the Government’s latest announcement and continue to work closely with our producer partners, who are absolutely key to us all as we plan our return to live performances.

Sunderland Empire hasn't staged a performance since March 2020.

"We remain mindful that the suggested dates set out by the Prime Minister are subject to change. In line with the new Government roadmap, we have suspended all performances to the earliest possible date of May 16 and we are contacting all affected ticket-holders. We look forward to warmly welcoming you back to the Empire as soon as we can safely do so.”

The last live performance at The Point in Park Lane was comedian Paul Smith on February 27 2020.

Major investment has been made at the venue, which can hold 1350 standing and 650 seated, and it had a packed calendar of events, sports, talks and gigs planned before the pandemic hit.

Managing director of The Point, which also includes gig space Live Lounge, Andrew Golding, said they are looking forward to welcoming audiences from the end of May / June.

Andrew Golding at The Point in Park Lane

He said: “Live Lounge will be announcing live music entertainments soon and The Point has a great program provisionally ready to go. All will be subject to the Governments road map and guidelines.

"I just hope the Government and our local authority will provide additional support to ensure businesses like ours, that are currently at a high risk due to these difficult market conditions, will continue to support businesses across all industries to ensure we can play our part in putting the country back on its feet.

"There will be a long term impact from this pandemic to the economy and businesses like ours that has not yet surfaced, there are still going to be further financial implications that are currently masked by the current furlough scheme.”

Andrew also oversees city centre venues Ttonic and Chaplins which are working towards an outdoor opening for food and drinks from April 12.

The new Auditorium is taking shape in the city centre. Photo by David Allan.

It’s being built on a former car park and is part of the wider Fire Station arts and culture hub.

Designed with a capacity of 450 people seated or 800 standing, The Auditorium lies between the size of the neighbouring 2,000-seater Empire and smaller music venues such as Independent and is a mid-size venue that should further stamp Sunderland on the touring circuit route for a host of gigs and other performances.

It will also have an outdoor space for socially-distanced performances.

There’s no definite dates for performances yet, but the venue is working towards a spring opening.

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