Outdoor performances will be allowed to restart in the U.K. from Saturday, the government has confirmed.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden gave the greenlight for outdoor theater, opera, dance and music shows with socially distanced audiences. This allows outdoor opera at Glyndebourne, Sussex and plays at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre to go ahead, in addition to the West End’s “Six The Musical” drive-in performances.
Dowden also said that pilots of indoor performances with socially distanced audiences are also in the works in order to figure out how to get the vast majority of performing arts operations up and running again.
The minister said the government is currently “funding studies” to understand how indoor scenarios could work, as well as the effects of using certain types of instruments that may spread droplets in enclosed spaces.
Dowden asked the public to “do [their] part” to support the arts by buying tickets and going to galleries. The announcement comes less than a week after the government unveiled a $1.96 billion support package for the country’s beleaguered arts sector.
Thursday’s loosening of restrictions seems to be in accordance with a five-stage “roadmap” for the theater sector, unveiled by Dowden in late June. The plan begins with rehearsals and training; then performances for broadcast and recording purposes; followed by performances outdoors with an audience, along with indoor pilot performances with audiences at a limited distance; then, performances allowed indoors with audiences at a limited distance; and finally, performances indoors with fuller audiences.
The roadmap, however, still lacks any dates for the final two — and arguably most important — stages of the plan.
Jon Morgan, chief executive of the U.K.’s Theatres Trust, said the new performing arts guidance will provide a further degree of clarity but that more forward-looking details are needed for theaters to plan accordingly.
“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 theaters 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.”
Morgan continued: “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 theaters to plan ahead — and for many theatres this uncertainty will be devastating.”
Morgan notes that with the furlough scheme ending in October, many theaters will be left in a “precarious situation” and could be forced to close permanently. “The performing arts will be the last sector to be able to reopen viably and it is therefore critical that the government’s rescue package prioritizes theatres across the U.K. who will be most affected by the delayed reopening.”