When the pandemic hit 12 months ago, it was devastating to close our doors – to cancel our shows, events and festivals, shut up our ice rink and pub, hit pause on our outreach programme. But through a rollercoaster year of partially reopening and then closing again (twice) we were determined not to fall silent: to keep adapting and thinking outside the box. When we look back at the last year we’re proud of all the moments of distraction and fun we’ve been able to bring people, the ground breaking projects we’ve been involved in and that we’ve done our best to keep going and keep people in our industry working as much as possible. Here are the highlights of an incredibly challenging, but extraordinary, year.
COMPASSION LONDON & EDIBLE LONDON
When lockdown first hit and we shut up completely, instead of leaving the Palace kitchens empty, they were offered as a base for Compassion London, a charity providing food parcels to vulnerable people across London. Founded by Leon Aarts, a veteran of working in the Calais refugee camps, Compassion London made an astonishing 500,000-plus meals. Their set up in the kitchens also had a beneficial impact on an ever growing number of volunteers. One volunteer, Becky, said that working at the Palace had been the ideal way to put her spare lockdown time to good use: “I love coming and meeting people. Food waste and hunger are problems I’ve always cared about, too, so this was an opportunity to combine a number of interests”. A food distribution centre was also set up in our Great Hall in partnership with Haringey Council and Edible London.
IDIOT PRAYER: NICK CAVE ALONE AT ALEXANDRA PALACE
Nick Cave’s hugely successful live stream at the height of the first lockdown was our first commercial endeavour during the pandemic and a moving one for all involved. Instead of trying to conjure an artificial intimacy, Cave and his cinematographer drew deliberate attention to the emptiness of Ally Pally: a powerful analogy of the impact the pandemic was having on certain sectors including the live music supply chain. The result, a beautifully eerie, cinematic response, which captured a moment for us as a venue.
“We worked with the team at Alexandra Palace – a venue I have played and love – on securing a date to film just as soon as they were allowed to re-open the building to us. We had an amazing production team and crew, and what they did within this extraordinary situation was a marvel. Surrounded by Covid officers with tape measures and thermometers, masked-up gaffers and camera operators, nervous looking technicians and buckets of hand gel, together we created something very strange and very beautiful that spoke into this uncertain moment, but was in no way bowed by it…It is a prayer into the void – alone at Alexandra Palace – a souvenir from a strange and precarious moment in history.” Nick Cave
In June and July Melody VR took up residence in our Theatre. They joined forces with the team behind Wireless, the legendary rap, grime, hip hop and R&B festival, to create Wireless Connect – the first ever virtual festival, with performances streamed live in 360° virtual reality on the MelodyVR app, VR headsets and smartphones. It was a ground breaking project for all involved, pushing the boundaries of ‘Live’, at a time when very little entertainment was taking place. Our Theatre was transformed into an incredible studio where artists including Stefflon Don, Mist, Steel Banglez, Jay1 and more were recorded with hi tech 360 cameras fitted all over the space. All the performances were then streamed across the 3 day festival from 3rd to 5th July 2020.
On the 4th July we opened The Terrace. Proclaimed as “the best thing to happen in 2020” by Time Out, our very own COVID secure beer garden had unbeatable panoramic views of London, the city’s hottest street food traders and one big old pop up bar. With 2m socially distanced tables, a one way system and a purpose built app to order food and drinks, we were able to host a whopping 17,000 guests whilst adhering to government guidelines. We also introduced Comedy at The Terrace, with some of the best comedians on the London scene including Nina Conti, Andrew Maxwell and Ed Gamble to name but a few. The Terrace returns in 2021 on April 12th.
DRIVE IN FILM CLUB
Our Pavilion Car Park played host to a hugely successful drive-in experience with the award winning Rooftop Cinema. Running from the 4th July through until the 10th September the experience included cinema snacks delivered direct to your car door and amongst the highlights was Pepsi Max UK’s screening of the UEFA Champions League Final. Situated next to the iconic Palace we were able to host 130 cars in each session with 3 screenings a day, welcoming over 40,000 guests. Drive in Film Club is returning in 2021 from April 13th.
“We want to bring people together, albeit safely, during this challenging age of social distancing; leaving your home in the safety of your vehicle will provide a fresh opportunity to share new experiences with the people you’re isolated with. We also want to give our staff an opportunity to earn a living without compromising their health, and partner with local businesses so they can continue to operate and generate economic value.” Gerry Cottle, the co-founder of Rooftop Film Club
Throughout 2020, the Park came into its own, providing a vital green space with profound well-being benefits. We’re proud that we kept the Park open every day for people to exercise and escape. In total there were over five million visits across the year, almost 70% more than usual. With this popularity came an unwanted spike in litter. But this too, like so many challenges we faced, had a positive response, with hundreds of local community volunteers stepping forward to help our overwhelmed park team clear 12 tonnes of rubbish.
ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA
Not being able to put on any events indoors, the ENO team approached us with a bold proposition – a drive In opera of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme – the first of its kind in Europe. Having hosted the Rooftop Drive In Cinema, we already had a thorough understanding of how a socially distanced drive in event worked (from the flow of cars to the ordering and delivery of food and drink.) There were 16 performances across 8 days which saw over 2,000 guests in attendance as well as a screening on Sky Arts.
As part of another project with Sky Arts, our Park was hired out for a very interesting shoot / art installation. The photographer was Spencer Tunick, a critically acclaimed artist well known for organising large scale nude shoots. The shoot took place on the 12th September, attended by over 200 people who wore nothing but facemasks (due to government guidelines). The Ally Pally Health and Safety team worked closely with the organiser to ensure the safety of everyone on site; all in all a really great project to be a part of.
During the pandemic we took the major step of taking our Creative Learning programme online, so we could continue to engage with older, isolated and vulnerable people, families and schools in a time of social distancing. Key projects, such as the Alexandra Palace Children’s Book Awards and our Summer Creativity Camps were repurposed for online audiences. Resource packs were made for home-schooling parents. New projects were created to reach out into the community. Our Little Window Therapies sessions, for example, funded by Children in Need, saw us team up with artists and theatre professionals, to put on a series of socially distanced performances at local care homes.
TOP GEAR & THE WALL OF DEATH
As a venue we like to push boundaries and do the impossible and the brief for Top Gear, Wall of Death was exactly that. Overall 22 Artic Trucks delivered over 160 tonnes of equipment to build the impressive structure. The stunt involved driving one of three cars – Maserati Quattroporte 2008, Ford Focus RS 2003 and a Porsche Cayman S 2006 – vertically inside the massive circular wall which was 30 metres in diameter, at speeds of between 40mph and 65mph. The BBC and Ally Pally team worked hand in hand to ensure the success of the build and stunt itself. It was a pleasure to host the Top Gear presenters – Chris Harris, Andrew Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness who all took part in this stunt!
“Please can you extend our thanks to the whole team at Alexandra Palace who helped us with this shoot. To undertake such an ambitious project as this during lockdown was an incredibly tough challenge and we could not have achieved it without your help and enthusiasm for the project. As a location, Ally Pally ticked all the boxes and provided a beautifully cinematic stage for our Wall of Death structure to sit within, but ultimately it was the flexibility and ‘can do’ attitude of the team there that helped us to get this over the line.” Zac Assemakis, Producer Director, Top Gear
LIVE AT ALLY PALLY
By the autumn we wanted to be able to host indoor events once again and so Live at Ally Pally was born, with eclectic programming including comedy, spoken word, rebel bingo, DJs and more. Five amazing shows took place in our West Hall between the 15th October and 25th October, including Al Murray and Sh*t Faced Shakespeare, with several thousand in attendance. Whilst the November lockdown lay waste to the rest of our plans, this did not take away from the incredible achievement of operating safe indoor events during this time.
PITCH & PUTT & THE ICE RINK
Whilst we had to wait until October to open the doors of our much loved ice rink, in July we were able to reopen our revamped Pitch & Putt course, offering some much needed leisure activity after months of lockdown. When the rink finally reopened, we welcomed thousands for socially distanced casual skating, drop in lessons and courses for kids and adults alike. It was disheartening to close the rink again in mid-December, just a couple of weeks after reopening for the second time, but even then we were able to put the space to good use, welcoming the legendary Torvill, Dean and more for ITV’s Dancing on Ice.
Pitch & Putt returns on Friday 2nd April and our Ice Rink will be reopening soon.
CHRISTMAS AT ALLY PALLY & THE GRUFFALO’S CHILD
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa Claus! In December, the East Court was beautifully decorated by our little elves where you could find Santa’s Grotto; close by, the Theatre was also in full swing, hosting festive film screenings such as Home Alone, Die Hard, Elf and Last Christmas, the last one being quite close to our heart as one the key scenes was filmed in no other than our lovely Ice Rink. In addition, the Theatre was also playing host to Tall Stories’ award winning adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo’s Child. It was disappointing that again, on the 16th December, London was plunged into lockdown, but we are so proud to have brought some festive cheer to our guests during those first couple of weeks.
PDC WORLD DARTS CHAMPIONSHIP
Ally Pally is synonymous with the World Darts Championship. It was clear from the outset that this year’s event would be considerably different to previous ones with fancy dress and singing banned because of COVID. Nevertheless, the team took what they had learnt from the past 6 months to ensure that the Darts could go ahead with the public in attendance. The Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) who organise the event, as well as the main sponsors, William Hill and Sky Sports, were on board and excited to get cracking. Anyone who bought tickets for the first day, on the 15th December 2020, were the lucky few to have seen the event live, as from the 16th new legislation came in and the rest of the competition had to take place behind closed doors. Fans were still able to follow the competition thanks to the coverage on Sky Sports with Gerywn Price being crowned champion in January 2021.
4MUSIC BOX FRESH, SONY 360 REALITY AUDIO EXPERIENCE & LATER…WITH JOOLS HOLLAND
From mid-December until the end of March we have been back in lockdown, closed completely to the public. We were however working behind the scenes to bring you new music and live performances, utilising our Theatre as a TV recording studio in the process. In December we welcomed 4Music’s Box Fresh: 2021 Spotlight, featuring exclusive performances and interviews from Arlo Parks, Pa Salieu, Gracey, 220 Kid and The Snuts all live from Alexandra Palace Theatre in their 90 minute show. We also partnered with Sony and Swedish singer songwriter, Zara Larsson to shoot their 360 reality Audio Experience, a ground breaking new technology that enables you to experience music all around you as you listen and watch – as if you were right there on stage. In 20201 Later…with Jools Holland also chose our Theatre for an atmospheric performance by Wolf Alice:
“Sometimes you can spend hours searching for something right for an artist, but with this one we knew immediately. On hearing Wolf Alice’s new song ‘The Last Man on Earth’ we knew we needed somewhere epic and grand to do the song justice and somewhere we could fit the band and strings! The restored theatre at Alexandra Palace came to mind and fitted the brief perfectly, we knew we were onto a winner. That was before we’d even met the amazing team, who went above and beyond to make our shoot a brilliant day.” Caroline Cullen, Producer, BBC
BBC 6 MUSIC FESTIVAL
The BBC 6 Music Festival is the station’s flagship live music event and in 2021 they chose Alexandra Palace Theatre for their first ever festival to take place behind closed doors. From Friday 26th to Sunday 28th March, spellbinding performances from the likes of Bicep, Michael Kiwanuka, and Laura Marlin, recorded and filmed “at the astounding Alexandra Palace” – BBC, were broadcast on 6 Music, BBC FOUR, BBC Sounds and BBC iPlayer. An incredible project to be a part of, this was an emotional watch for the Ally Pally team and live music fans alike: as we slowly ease out of lockdown (hopefully for the last time) we eagerly await the moment we can all be at the Palace again, experiencing the thrill of ‘live’ in person.
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Alexandra Palace is run by a charity for the benefit of everyone. We’re working harder than ever to keep you entertained, care for the award-winning park and run our creative learning programmes. But to ensure we’re here to do this now and long into the future, we need your help. Click below to find out how you can support us.