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Photographer Helen Murray captures #OurEmptyTheatres

  A London-based photographer sends a love letter to the UK’s closed arts venues during the Coronavirus crisis and asks the very important question, what do these silent spaces mean to us?

3 minute read

Wednesday 18 March 2020 will always be a memorable moment for our organisation. Along with other live event venues, we closed our doors to the general public and to this day, our theatres have remained still, our backstage silent, our seats empty. 2020 has continued to be a period of great change and uncertainty for arts and culture organisations all over the UK, and one woman has been committed to capturing this in an artistic way.

All photography by Helen Murray. Captured during the Coronavirus crisis, 2020.

‘Shooting this series has been heartbreaking. Going back to into these spaces, I was met with total silence. No background noise, no chitter chatter, no infectious laughs bellowing out of a rehearsal room.’

— Helen Murray

At the start of lockdown, photographer Helen Murray set herself the challenge to come up with a project that responded to what the industry was facing. ‘I milled over many ideas,’ she explains, ‘but what I kept coming back to was our empty theatres – these spaces that were now without life, without people and without stories.’

Thus, her project #OurEmptyTheatres was born. Over the following months, following social distancing guidelines, Helen and her cameras got to work. She visited and captured a total of 22 theatre spaces from the cities of London, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

These spaces, which I’ve been going to on a weekly basis since I’ve first moved to London from Derry in 2006,’ she recounts, ‘are where I’ve met my best mates, where I had my first paid job, where I encountered my first ‘famous person’, where I became an artist.’

The view from the balcony of a theatre looks out to an empty seating area
A photo of the backstage area of a wooden theatre
The view of an outdoor stage from a seat
An outdoor stage of an open air theatre
The view from the balcony of a theatre looks out to an empty seating area
An empty theatre in darkness

Closing our spaces was one of the hardest decisions we had to make, but a responsible and necessary one in 2020.

‘What are these buildings, without all the glorious, wonderful, different kinds of people that make these spaces? What are they without those armies of freelancers, permanent staff, ushers, volunteers, community and audience members?’

— Helen Murray

Empty wooden seats in a theatre
A closed foyer area in darkness
The view from the balcony of a theatre looks out to an empty seating area

Helen’s series has captured the empty spaces of The Albany, Almeida Theatre, The Criterion, Battersea Arts Centre, Bush Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Gate Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, Kiln Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Roundhouse, Royal Court Theatre, Soho Theatre, Theatre 503, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Unicorn Theatre, Yard Theatre & Young Vic.

‘I ask – what do our empty theatres mean to you? Each and every one of us that walks through these doors has our own relationship with these spaces and our own stories to tell. They belong to all of us. My photos are a love letter to not just the theatres but the whole community that inhabit them.’

— Helen Murray

Helen’s mission is to start a conversation about our own emotional responses to these silent spaces. She invites you all to share with her what #OurEmptyTheatres means to you by using the hashtag.

Find her on Instagram @helenmurraypix or visit her website to find out more about her work and see the entire series.

Whilst we are running online events and staying connected to you digitally at this time, our physical buildings sadly still remain closed. Please donate to safeguard the future of Shakespeare’s Globe. Thank you.

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