Theatre ‘will bounce back from pandemic’, predicts Sheffield producer Ben Millerman

The future for British theatre is tough as a result of the pandemic but the potential to work in new ways could bring fresh hope, says a Sheffield-based producer.

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th August 2020, 12:12 pm
One of Ben Millerman's shows, Pantomania
One of Ben Millerman's shows, Pantomania

Ben Millerman runs Mr Millerman Presents, based in Millhouses, and he has seen several current and future shows in development hit by lockdown.

His company produces a range of musicals, pantomimes and dramas.

Like everyone else in the industry, Ben is desperate to know when theatres will be open again, so that he can rebook his touring shows.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Ben, who is from Sheffield, said he grew up going to the Lyceum and Crucible and did shows with Manor Operatic and Sheffield Teachers Operatic societies.

The first show he produced was a production of Hi De Hi eight years ago at Abbeydale Picture House.

He said: “The biggest blow for me has been that pantomimes across the country have been cancelled.

"At the moment we don’t know when we can reopen shows. Productions are at least 18 months in preparation and we don’t know what’s going on.

Another Mr Millerman Presents show, the musical, Yank!

"We have been developing a couple of brand new musicals so we can still work on developing scripts and scores and characters.”

He is also in touch with theatres, trying to work out when they think they will reopen and what dates will be available to book, once the shows that should have been on stage this year have been rescheduled.

Ben has also been looking at shows to export to Asia and Australia.

He said: “It’s unlikely we’ll get shows on here next year. I am talking with a company in China to take a show out there. Beijing and China are both wanting to become the West End of their own country. With that comes massive interest and people wanting to invest in shows.”

Sheffield-based theatre producer Ben Millerman

Ben said that there are millions of people in south-east Asia who speak perfect English as it’s a business language, are interested in Western culture and have disposable income.

Here, he has been excited by the potential for online and live-streamed shows, such as a series announced by the London Coliseum to be performed in an empty theatre and watched by a home audience.

Sheffield Theatres is heading outdoors, with plans for pop-up shows.

Ben said there is a big need for sources of income for theatres, which rely heavily on pantomimes and Christmas shows that have been cancelled this year.

Further theatre closures are very likely to result, he said. “There’s been a lot of talk about no extension to the self-employment income scheme for freelances in the theatre. I think that’s not the main issue.

"We don’t want an extension, we want a date when we can reopen theatres. All of us are doing day jobs to keep ourselves going.”

Ben fears a return to the 1960s and 70s, when so many theatres closed. “On the plus side, I always believe that from the ashes comes the phoenix.

"We’re going to lose venues, companies and shows but that opens the doors for emerging venues and artists.

"Cameron Mackintosh rose to where he is because of the issues in the 1960s and 70s. He was trying to become a producer and said to theatres, ‘if you fund my shows, I will fill up your empty theatres’. That’s how he became a massive success.”

Ben wants to see more publicly-funded theatres collaborating with commercial producers and more exciting new work instead of well-worn shows that have had their day.

"Six, Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen are so popular because of the style or subject matter. Now we have the luxury of time where we can go, ‘what’s the future of theatre? What do people want and how are we going to do this?’ It forces us to stop and think because we have nothing else to do.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.

Thank you

Nancy Fielder, editor