Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the performing arts industry with shows cancelled and theatres closed.
As the pandemic took hold in early 2020, St Agnes’ Choral Society were forced to cancel their production of Irving Berlin’s Top Hat. Now, they are preparing to tread the boards once more as they bring Shrek out of the swamp and on to the stage of the Grand Opera House.
Discussing the impact that Coronavirus had on the company, Society Chairperson Gareth McGreevy said: “Going back to the beginning of Covid, we were gearing up to stage Top Hat at the Island Arts Centre and that was pulled the week before it was due to open.
“As a company we have been re-evaluating where we are. Our main purpose is to put on productions for audiences from near and far but we obviously have Top Hat waiting to go and we have invested a lot of money in that.
“I think that it was only fitting on our return to the Grand Opera House that we picked a show that was not only fun but family friendly and that the audiences would be able to enjoy.


“We were planning on performing Shrek in 2021 but it was postponed and we decided that we would proceed with that and put Top Hat on the long finger as we have the rights for ten years and hopefully we will bring it to the stage in 2022.”
The pandemic brought many challenges to the group but they were willing to work to overcome them as Gareth recounts.
“One of the biggest challenges we have faced as a company during Covid-19 is maintaining the social aspect. While people have their own friendship groups within the company, we miss that social interaction.
“One of the first things we done when lockdown was introduced, was we launched a song in aid of Macmillan. We recorded ‘Thankful’ by Josh Groban and it raised over £2,000 for the charity.
“We have also been holding online workshops with the company in terms of audition etiquette and we have been working with professionals around the country on choreography workshops.
“One of our members, Patrick Smyth has performed in the West End and we held a question and answer session with him on how he moved from performing with St Agnes’ to some of the best theatres in London.”
As the world moved online, St Agnes’ Choral Society were adapting their programmes in a Covid-safe manner as Gareth tells us: “Singing virtually on a Zoom call isn’t the most beneficial for us as you can get time delays and it simply doesn’t work for us. However, music is at the heart of what we do at St Agnes’ and as soon as we can get back to that, we will.
“At Christmas we recorded two concerts in St Peter’s Cathedral and they were broadcast in aid of the Renal Unit. They were then picked up by NVTV and broadcast on Freeview and Virgin Media on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
“Although we filmed in line with the Covid guidelines, people were able to see each other as they were entering or leaving the church to record their songs. That raised over £4,000.

“Moving forward we are hoping to arrange some social activates when the restrictions allow so that we can bring our members back together as I don’t think we appreciated the social aspect of meeting in the rehearsal room.
“Hopefully the arts will continue to receive the support that is needed from our government because the lack of support during the pandemic has been concerning. We are looking forward to helping those within the industry who haven’t been able to avail of funding for one reason or another be that lighting teams or sound teams and we are looking forward to be able to give them some business when we get back up and running.”
For many of their members, there is more to the group than performing as Gareth details. “We are looking forward to getting back to what we love doing. We all do this as a hobby and I don’t think we will ever take for granted again the ability to open up a hall, have a cup of tea, a sing and a bit of craic.
“I think St Agnes’ means something to everybody. If it is getting out of the house, getting out for a sing or getting to the Opera House, everyone has their own reasons for loving the company.
“One thing about St Agnes’ is that friendships do transcend generations. One of our oldest members Kevin McKavanagh, who is over 80, right down to our youngest members who are 16.”
Discussing the upcoming production of Shrek The Musical, he added: “Moving forward, we wanted something that would lighten the mood of the pandemic and Shrek is certainly one to do that as the characters and sense of humour are brilliant.
“In terms of logistics, we still have a number of challenges to overcome. The Opera House are programming shows at the moment on the understanding that it will be operating on a full capacity of an audience and that is the only way that this production will be viable for us.
“They have seen unprecedented uptake in ticket sales and people really want to get back to the theatre. We have already sold 35 per cent of our tickets for the Saturday matinee and with almost a year lead-in that is unheard of for us.
“We normally see an increase in sales around Christmas time and then in a last minute rush as we get closer to the production.

“The production coincides with St Patrick’s week and hopefully it will become part of the St Patrick’s week celebrations.
“In terms of getting back into the rehearsal room, we as a company have to be mindful that Covid is still out there. We are not rushing straight in and there is a lot of preparation going on behind the scenes.
“We will only return to rehearsals when it is safe to do so and we want to give ourselves a longer lead-in time in the event that Covid is still with us closer to the production.
“For a show in March or April, we would normally hold auditions around November time and begin rehearsals from January. With Shrek we are bringing that forward to allow for any Covid restrictions which may come along and there is a lot of preparation going on to get the show on stage.
“We are currently deciding if we will be having in-person auditions or if they will be done virtually. Ideally we would want to cast the show in the summer time and then hit the ground running in terms of rehearsals when we have no restrictions.
“We are also looking forward to get back to the Grand Opera House when they reopen after their refurbishment to see what has changed and we can’t wait to show that after our 60 odd years in business that we are still bringing joy to our audiences.”