After six baffling, bruising months, it’s hardly surprising that so many people, from the Prime Minister down, desperately want us to return to a sense of normality. Even the reflexive go-to phrase – “the new normal” – hints at our need to cling onto something that is familiar. There’s a powerful pull to re-establish roles, rules and routines which we can all understand. And a real temptation to fall back into doing things the way we’ve always done them because… that’s just the way we’ve always done them.

As we tentatively emerge from lockdown – or, depending which bit of the Midlands you’re in, teeter on the edge of going back into it again – there’s only one real certainty left. It’ll be a long time before our sector looks anything like it used to – and being realistic, perhaps it never will.

But what if we didn’t have to search or settle for that “new normal” as a means of making the best of this horrible situation? What if we actively looked for better and more hopeful ways of approaching the challenges that lie ahead? Instead of slavishly trying to recreate things exactly how they were, what if this were the moment to lay our Lego bricks out on the carpet and to let our imaginations build something dramatically different?

At a recent East Meets West Zoom about post-lockdown Rural Touring, theatre-maker Tilly Branson spoke eloquently about the pressing need to reflect on how we operated before COVID-19 arrived, to listen and learn from one another about what was working and especially about what wasn’t, and to collaborate in ways that truly support and protect the wellbeing of everyone working in our sector and the audiences who we serve. 

Tilly shunned the very idea of “the new normal” and replaced it with something much more inviting: “a changing world”. Having dropped this depth charge, the community were quick to embrace the phrase. Philippa Cross from Talking Birds commented: 

“I much prefer the phrase ‘a changed world’ to ‘a new normal’ – and I’d actually like to talk about a changing world – because over the next few months and years, things will go on changing… It’s a good reminder for us not to get complacent in the future.” 

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many of the structures on which our sector is built are precarious. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ve always known this, deep down. We’ve been presented with a chance to break the cycle and bring about some fundamental changes. Achieving that is ultimately a question of how much effort each of us is willing to put in and how brave we’re willing to be in shaking things up further.

Taking Tilly and Philippa’s provocations as our starting point, our theme for September and October on the East Meets West Hub is ‘A Changing World’. Over the next eight weeks, through a series of articles, interviews, guest editorials and much more, we’ll be pondering what this landscape could look like and highlighting some of the brilliant initiatives that are already starting to take shape. And this isn’t just about us telling you what other people think – we also want to hear from you, too, through polls, comment threads and original posts. Your regional sector needs you – so what are you going to do to help reactivate it?

Head over to the Hub now!