As the nation waits anxiously for the forthcoming lockdown-exit announcement on the 22 February 2021, think tank Out To Perform and the Coalition for Open Air Theatre delivered a letter to the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden, making a request on behalf of performing arts of all kinds, to allow the outdoor performing arts to spearhead the sector’s return at the earliest opportunity, due to the inherently Covid-safer environment of the rapid dispersal of aerosols outside. Signatories, along with 60 other names, included Annilese Miskimmon (artistic director, English National Opera); Catherine Mallyon (executive director, Royal Shakespeare Company); Neil Constable (chief executive, Shakespeare’s Globe); Oliver Mears (director of opera, Royal Opera House); and Michelle Cawardine-Palmer (executive director, Kneehigh).
Last year’s decision to allow live outdoor performance to restart on 11 July, followed the Coalition for Open Air Theatre’s recommendations. Out to Perform estimates the impact of this decision allowed 500,000 people able to experience the joy of attending small-scale live performances last year, generating circa £7 million in revenue.
The government’s policies also enabled outdoor carol singing in England to take place after 2 December following Out To Perform’s Save Carol Singing campaign, giving an estimated 100,000 people the pleasure of singing together safely for the first time since March.
The collective has requested that as the government continues to manage the difficult balance of unlocking of the economy whilst protecting public health, it should consider allowing the segment of the performing arts with the lowest Covid risks to lead the national cultural revival and reopen after lockdown ends.
Whilst the public narrative focuses on the big-ticket outdoor summer festivals, which are unlikely to operate this year due to their scale, style and long lead-times, OTP and COAT believe that focusing on smaller scale and more local outdoor events can more than fill their place, kickstarting the cultural renaissance of the UK.
The signatories to the letter, who have amassed vast experience in being able to apply rigorous Covid-prevention protocols, are hopeful that they can provide the government with advice and support, which leads to setting out a roadmap which will lead to an earlier national revival of the performing arts, by focusing on the part of the sector most easy to make safe. To that end it hopes that the government will consider events that are initially:
- Outdoors: where the air is Covid-safer
- Local: where audiences will, initially, be primarily from the local area
- Small-scale: under c.500 people
- Controlled seating: where social distancing can be much more easily managed between bubbles
Stuart Barr, founder/CEO, Out To Perform, said:
“We believe this is the earliest safe route for the nation to enjoy the uplift that only live entertainment can bring, as well as supporting jobs across the country. Covid is a terrible disease, and the government is right to do everything it can to reduce risk of serious illness. But DCMS guidance already states that outdoor performances are much safer than indoors due to the quick dispersal of aerosols.”
Zoe Curnow, executive director of The Minack Theatre, added: “We are optimistic that, as long as events comply with protocols such as the well-established social distancing measures, the government will consider allowing the legion of experienced arts professionals to begin preparing for outdoor performances to resume.”