04 April 2022

Creativity is at the heart of society’s emotional recovery


    By Stephen Cocker - Chief Executive, Norwich Theatre

    As theatre venues across the world were forced to close in March 2020, there was an immediate and palpable feeling of loss – loss of audiences, loss of hustle and bustle and an over-riding loss of purpose. 

    At a societal level, the sense of loss we felt within our own sector diversified and intensified as the pandemic continued to ravage us - loss of freedoms, loss of livelihoods and, in the most tragic manifestations, the loss of loved ones. 

    As I think about the future for theatres and the future role of creativity, it is with the healing of the wounds caused by this loss at the forefront of my mind.

    Woman acting out a scene on stage
    A performance of Birds and the Bees a new co-production with Norwich Theatre Royal, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and John Stalker Productions, adapted by UEA alumni James McDermott.


    The pandemic has forced the whole arts and cultural sector to re-think and, in doing so, truly evaluate what it is that has been lost and we are trying to save. It is absolutely true that because of COVID-19 certain planned creative projects may now never happen and some cultural venues may never open again and this is incredibly sad. However, as painful as each of these things are, I believe they are just totems of a broader and more profound loss. 

    For the arts and cultural sector the biggest loss has been that truly unfettered creative expression that helps us make sense of the world and the loss of shared creative experience that helps us live our lives. More than ever before, we all need help making sense of the world and re-building our lives.

    Any piece of artistic work is, at its very core, the transmission of an emotion from its creator to its receiver

    Any piece of artistic work is, at its very core, the transmission of an emotion from its creator to its receiver. More than we might realise, our daily lives are filled with such references whether a snippet of music that we once heard, a picture we once saw or even just a particular word or phrase. We need artists and their unparalleled ability to create work that helps our emotional wellbeing as we come to terms with life post-COVID-19. 

    Shortly after I arrived in Norwich, someone described Norwich Theatre’s venues as being like ‘warm blankets’ and this has kept coming back to my mind time and again over these past months. For hundreds of thousands of people, there is an incredible yet invisible sense of togetherness and community that sitting in our theatres provides. In a world that is recovering from extraordinary loss and isolation, this has also never been more important.

    Jazz and Musical Theatre workshop
    Jazz and Musical Theatre workshops at Norwich Theatre


    So much of our nation’s public health has quite rightly been focussed on protecting the physical this year but the focus must soon turn to restoring the emotional. Our first and best defence against the physical threat of COVID-19 has been our country’s incredible healthcare professionals and the careful protection of hospitals they work within. I truly believe that as our country moves beyond the pandemic and into a period of emotional recovery it is our artists and creatives, the work they make and the spaces that they create within that must also be protected as they have a bigger and more vital role to play than ever before. This absolutely must include new collaborative working both within the arts sector itself and which reaches across sector boundaries as the rule rather than the exception.

    You can find more information on Norwich Theatre's website.

    This blog post was written by Stephen Crocker, Chief Executive of Norwich Theatre. Originally published as part of Visions of a Creative Future, a collection of essays and reflections by UEA researchers and our partners across the region. These pieces were written from mid-2020 to mid-2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their content and tone reflects this context.

    Norwich Theatre presents

    Norwich Theatre presents The Birds & the Bees in co-production with New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and John Stalker Productions from 20 – 30 April 2022. A Canadian comedy written by Mark Crawford, the play has been relocated to the Norfolk shores by James McDermott, a UEA alumni and local writer.

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