‘The worse the crisis,…

…the calmer I get’.

From Covid restrictions to a new lockdown: We spoke with director Julia Schafranek about realistic planning, an optimistic outlook and life behind the scenes at Vienna’s English Theatre.

by Caro Wiesauer

Founded in 1963, V.E.T. is the oldest English-language theatre in continental Europe. The new season had barely begun before the theatre had to close its doors again. Schafranek hadn’t been too euphoric on reopening after the first lockdown: ‘Financially, it would have been better for us to extend short-time working until it all blows over.’ Under Covid regulations, only a maximum of 50 percent of seats could be sold.
The fact that the artistic team comes from England poses an additional risk. A single suspected coronavirus case could leave the entire group stuck in a hotel for weeks. ‘You ask yourself: How could I possibly finance that?’
In the end, though, the director felt an obligation to reopen: ‘Our audience does not deserve to go without culture. It has supported us, too.’

Small cast

The season opened with Willy Russell’s two-hander ‘Educating Rita’. ‘I figured a small cast was going to be less of a financial strain if we had to cancel at short notice.’ Everything went well, with 80 percent of seats being sold in September and October. ‘Only some of the older subscribers were afraid to come.’
But with the situation worsening again and the second lockdown to start the next day, the first night of Graham Greene’s ‘Travels With My Aunt’ on 2 November was also going be the last one for the time being.
It was at the end of the interval that Schafranek first heard about the terror attack in the city centre. She eventually decided to continue with the play: ‘We must not let life and art be taken away from us.’ Only after the final applause did she announce the terrible news. Around 20 guests who could not get home stayed until 2 a.m. Schafranek found some guitars, and the actors did their best. ‘There was a strong sense of connection. Afterwards, everyone wrote to thank us. It’s strange but the worse the crisis, the calmer I get.’

Vienna‘s English Theatre. Josefsgasse 12
+43 1 402 12 60-0, tickets@englishtheatre.at
www.englishtheatre.at