Following on from the news that open air venue productions could go ahead earlier this month, culture secretary Oliver Dowden and prime minister Boris Johnson have announced plans for a limited return of indoor socially-distanced theatre productions from 1 August 2020 subject to the success of previously planned pilot performances.
This indicates progress to stage four of the Government’s five-point phased return for professional arts performances, as culture secretary Oliver Dowden explained:
“The UK’s performing arts sector is renowned across the world and I am pleased that we are making real progress in getting its doors reopened to the public with social distancing.
“From August indoor theatres, music venues and performance spaces will safely welcome audiences back across the country. This is a welcome step in the path to a return to normal and, coupled with our £1.57 billion rescue package, will help secure the future of this important sector.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been working with the performing arts sector on test performances with socially distanced audiences at venues, including the London Palladium and London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke’s, to produce final guidance for venues hoping to take advantage of the latest easing of restrictions. The proposed return on indoor performances is likely to once again apply to England alone.
Prime minister Boris Johnson added:
“From 1 August, we will restart live indoor performances to a live audience subject to the success of pilots, and we will pilot larger gatherings, with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn… These changes have to be made in a Covid-secure way subject to pilots.
“We hope that by November at the earliest, if we continue to make progress, then it may conceivably be possible to move away from social distancing measures, such as the one metre rule. That is entirely conditional on our ability to keep the virus under control.”
While the news will be welcomed by the performing arts sector, many industry figures are anxious to know more details about the distribution of the £1.57 billion rescue package, especially when it is not economically viable for a large percentage of venues to stage socially distanced performances. Every day theatres are being forced to go into redundancy negotiations, including in the last 24 hours, the Royal Opera House, Southbank Centre, LW Theatres and Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.
A statement from the Theatres Trust read: “ We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today that theatres can reopen from 1 August for live performances with a socially distanced audience. Alongside the support package and performing arts guidance announced last week, this is a step in the right direction, but for most theatres it will not be economically viable to reopen with 30-40% audience required under social distancing.
“We now need to progress as quickly as possible to an announcement on the all-important stage 5, allowing theatres to reopen fully with the appropriate safety measures. Without this most theatres cannot reopen viably and we need the go-ahead for Christmas shows, on which the survival of many theatres depends, in the next few weeks at the very latest.”
From 1 August socially distanced audiences can return for indoor performances in theatres, music halls and other venues. This builds on pilots with @londonsymphony and others. So pleased to make progress to Stage 4 of our road map for culture. pic.twitter.com/Js7dQUghZ6
— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) July 17, 2020