Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has announced the first relaxation in the rules regarding theatre performance, with the statement that open air venue productions can go ahead from Saturday 11 July 2020.
The Government said that shows must have a ‘limited and socially distanced audience’. In addition, a series of test events will be permitted for a select number of indoor shows, as a prelude to possible further changes to the performance restrictions.
Among the early beneficiaries are the Minack, Cornwall open air theatre and Glyndebourne Opera, while the London Symphony Orchestra, London Palladium and Butlin’s will lead on the indoor performance scheme.
Organisations including UK Theatre, the Association of British Orchestras and the Musicians’ Union will assist in the identification of other suitable pilots.
Delivering the news, the culture secretary commented: “Our culture, heritage and arts are too precious to lose. That’s why we’re protecting venues like theatres from redevelopment if they fall on hard times.
“We are also giving further clarity on restart dates in our roadmap back to performance. From 11 July we can all enjoy performances outdoors with social distancing and we are working hard to get indoor audiences back as soon as we safely can, following pilots. Our scientific research project will also help speed up this journey.”
A change in planning rules will also mean theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues will be protected from demolition or change of use by developers, stopping those that have been made temporarily vacant during lockdown disappearing altogether and giving extra security to these businesses as they start to re-open.
“Combined with our £1.57 billion rescue package, this is a comprehensive plan to help our brilliant arts organisations weather the Covid storm and bounce back stronger,” said Dowden.
While welcoming the measures, representatives from industry bodies commented on the lack of notice given to venues in order for them to respond to the change in policy, and urged government to improve this for Stage 4 and Stage 5 of the reopening schedule.
Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said: “Alongside the very welcome and much-needed package of government support for the culture sector announced earlier this week, the publication of the performing arts guidance today will give a further degree of clarity to theatres. The publication of details for stage 3 will allow theatres to move to outdoor performances from 11 July. However, it is disappointing that the guidelines have been published without a ‘not before’ date for Stage 4 and the all-important Stage 5 – the point when theatres will be able to open fully and welcome back audiences without social distancing. For the majority, it means continued delay and uncertainty as to when they will be able to reopen fully and for some, this delay may mean they never reopen.
“We appreciate the difficulty in setting a date for stage 5 as it will always be conditional on circumstances such as the R rate remaining low, further safety tests being conducted and the safety of staff, creatives and audiences must be a priority. But without even an indicative date it is difficult for theatres to plan ahead – and for many theatres this uncertainty will be devastating.”
In response to the latest government announcement from Olivier Dowden regarding the further easing of lockdown restrictions & the reopening of outdoor #theatre on 11 July, @julianpbird, CEO of @SOLTnews & @uk_theatre released the following statement 👇 pic.twitter.com/GJ5izgBMd7
— SOLT News (@SOLTnews) July 9, 2020
We welcome the government’s announcement to allow outdoor performances to go ahead, and continue to explore ways in which we might be able to work with partners to find a safe and economic way for us to be able to open for a shorter period later this summer.
— Open Air Theatre (@OpenAirTheatre) July 9, 2020