Slovak National Theatre - Challenges Associated with COVID-19

Peter Kováč, former Director General, Slovak National Theatre

COVID-19 pandemic hit the Slovak National Theatre during celebrations of its 100th anniversary, one of the most significant and long-awaited events.  It was supposed to be a season of various types of performances, several premieres and cooperation with many eminent personalities.

The closure of theatres beginning March 2020 was unexpected in terms of pandemic duration, extent of measures and financial impacts. Since the very outbreak of the pandemic, we had to react quickly and wisely and take measures to protect health of our employees and minimise the economic losses at the same time.  The immediate closure of the theatre, suspension of all activities regarding cancellation of performances, rehearsal processes, and activities in the art-decorative workshops and all planned rentals in our two buildings was carried out within a very short time. At that moment nobody would predict that the measures taken, which we were initially planning for 2 weeks, would last until summer and again starting in September and will cause immense income losses resulting from theatre closure.

In the first stage of closure, the theatre was executing only the most inevitable duties with the least possible number of employees. The most difficult decision taken was to cut off all the artists from their creative work, stop technical workers and other employees from coming to work, since their performance is closely connected to production in the theatre. The majority of employees were sent home to have an obstacle at work and the rest was having home office combined with work at workplace. In order to maintain the favour of the audience, our three ensembles came up with different kinds of activities, such as reading fairy-tales, bedtime stories to children by famous actors, short concerts by orchestra players, ballet warm-ups and many more realized from their homes. Such measures are still in force, even though, there have been some exceptions during summer time, which compared to spring, was a bit more generous towards participation in cultural activities.

In the meantime, the theatre is functioning in restricted mode, however we are slowly returning back to life. We have started to record some online drama performances, some of them being sold on our website as well. Consequently, as restrictions are being gradually loosened, the theatre is rehearsing for performances and concerts for live audience including Drama, Opera and Ballet works. The corona virus outbreak caused a slight shift in thinking in terms of operating in online environment and searching for other forms of activities satisfying the hunger of artists  to perform on one side and evident appetite of the public for some culture on the other side.

The wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to contain it are taking a considerable toll on all aspects of our life, including culture.

The challenges and difficult times the Slovak National Theatre is facing right now, will hopefully be soon overcome and contribute to even stronger creativity and explosion of ideas in the near future.