But many theatres are facing an uncertain future.
For all the good that National Theatre at Home has been doing with their livestreamed shows, there’s no substitute to actually being back in the theatre. And whilst that’s seemed a depressingly long way off for a while now, there’s a glimmer of light in the distance, as the UK government has said that indoor theatre performances, along with shows in music halls and other similar venues, can return from August 1.
Part of a new range of lockdown easing measures (see them all here), the return of indoor theatre performances will hinge on the outcome of a series of pilot schemes – if they prove successful, then a more widespread reopening of theatres could follow in the autumn. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden expanded on the move on Twitter:
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
The key to the resumption of theatre lies in the “socially distanced audiences” line: venues will have to operate at a reduced capacity and limit ticket sales to encourage social distancing, with social distancing markings clearly displayed in areas where queues could form. Similarly, the government guidance encourages online ticket sales and e-tickets to reduce contact, deep cleaning of auditoriums, scheduling performances far enough apart to allow cleaning before the next audience arrives, and for performers, musicians, and conductors to follow social distancing whenever possible.
Though this is a welcome first step, it’s unlikely that you’ll see many London theatres throwing open their doors on August 1. Social distancing measures would limit audience numbers to well below half of a venue’s capacity, meaning that for the majority of venues, it won’t be economically viable to mount a production under these restrictions. Similarly, the amount of time needed to lock in performers, technicians, rehearsal time, and shift tickets makes a return in just two weeks extremely unlikely. Instead, many critics of the government’s approach to the theatre industry are calling for clearer guidance on when Stage 5 of the government’s aforementioned “road map for culture” would begin – as this is the stage at which fuller audiences can be welcomed back. We’ll hope for the best, but unless further news comes soon, many theatres will likely follow the lead of Cameron Mackintosh and push productions back until 2021.
Also published on Medium.