Melbourne’s fourth lockdown has bruised the confidence of Alex Theatre in St Kilda. The seven-day snap-lockdown, coupled with multiplying Covid-19 cases and exposure sites, is a major setback for small businesses that rely on live shows and performances for income.
Allan Rendell, Alex Theatre’s general manager says “this lockdown is having a greater psychological impact than the others”.
Alex Theatre’s current lockdown plan to reduce costs mirrors a typical small business strategy; increase debt, reduce overhead and let go of staff. “Though after thirteen months our options are limited,” says Rendell.
He understands the Victorian government is doing its best to manage Covid-19 outbreaks, but Rendell says “there [also] seems to be a lack of accountability”.
“There is no strategy we can put in place to mitigate the risk of operating a business in Melbourne at the moment with the constant fear of COVID lockdowns.”
The government’s $250 million support package granting small businesses made inoperational by the lockdown $2,500 for their losses is welcomed, says Rendell, but it’s simply not enough.
“In reality, our losses are approximately $15,000 a week”.
The theatre has already cancelled four upcoming shows and restarted the painstaking refund and rebooking process.
After thirteen months, Alex Theatre had just managed to refund nearly every ticket from shows cancelled due to the three previous lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.
“May came upon us it was a relief to be able to start to generate an income once again through events, and then just as our corporate clients returned we closed the doors at the end of our first major event,” says Rendell.
Rendell says this lockdown will be particularly tough without the support of JobKeeper and growing fears of once again restarting from scratch.
“Through Jobkeeper we tried to retain our full-time and casual workforce but after twelve months we found most had moved interstate or lost motivation for our industry,” says Rendell.
In early 2021, Alex Theatre has just begun rebuilding its team, spending additional resources and time on recruiting and training new staff.
But with this new lockdown has shattered the business’s confidence about once again devising a reopening strategy. “We can no longer [use] our old model with the fear of an extended or additional lockdown in the future,” says Rendell.
He says lockdown number four is deluding the blind hope that in a better tomorrow a small business needs to operate even at the best of times.
After nearly a year of reinventing and pivoting their business model, making advancements in digitalising their products and services, the physiological and financial toll is draining.
Post-lockdown, “we will need to reinvent what we do while still operating within our business’s purpose, if we are to remain in business at all,” says Rendell.
While other small businesses are waiting anxiously, anticipating more government support, Alex Theatre isn’t holding its breath.
After thirteen months of applying to numerous government assistance programs and grants and receiving very little, Rendell acknowledges how “it’s highly unlikely we will receive any government support for being a theatre”.
He says the grants Alex Theatre is eligible for tend to favour larger entertainment companies or more niche art projects.
“We are assigned to not being the cool kids of the art world and normally that is okay, as we believe in working for a living.”
“But when you apply for assistance to restart a local economy, after all, that is what a theatre can do, and no one seems to [make that] connection to your business’s value…One starts to question; is the problem with us or the system we are communicating through?”
Allan Rendell, GM of Alex Theatre in St Kilda, Melbourne