The reopening of theatres with social distancing and Covid protocols next week gives a “positive indication” that the industry can get back to normal soon, according to a leading arts charity.
However, Theatres Trust, which champions theatres in communities and supports community groups to save their local theatre, warned that it will still be impossible for many theatres to open their doors while there is a cap on capacity, and the theatres that do open with social distancing will be operating at a loss.
The Prime Minister has announced that cinemas, museums, theatres and concert halls in England will be allowed to reopen from May 17 under step three on the road map out of lockdown, although there will be capacity limits on large events.
Jon Morgan, director of of Theatres Trust, told the PA news agency: “This is really good news, we’ve been keeping an eye on how the whole kind of road map was progressing.
“And even though this stage step three is not the most critical one for theatres, the fact that it is going ahead as planned, is a positive indication that we can have some hope that June 21, step four, the more crucial stage for us, may also go ahead.
“But there is quite a lot that needs to be in place between now and then.
“And importantly, what we don’t know yet is whether step four will go ahead and even if it does go ahead as planned, whether that will mean the complete lifting of social distancing.
“The Government said that step four would mean the lifting of all legal restrictions and my interpretation of that is that means things like any number of people can mix indoors, and any number of people can mix outdoors, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the lifting of social distancing.”
Mr Morgan said Events Research Programme, which will provide evidence to inform decisions around the removal of social distancing at stage four of the Government’s road map out of lockdown, will be crucial in getting theatres back to normal.
He added: “About a third of theatres won’t be opening at step three, from what we now understand, because it’s just not viable.
“And even those that are, in many cases, they’re going to be doing it as a loss leader, they’re going to be doing it at a loss because they feel it’s their duty to be open if they can and to provide stuff for their local community.
“Really for theatres to be viable, they need to operate at least 70% capacity, and that means either very little or no social distancing.”
Mr Morgan said theatres will also need information on whether audience Covid certification will be required and whether building ventilation will need to be changed.
He added: “Will you require us to check Covid passports? Will we need to make significant changes to the way our buildings are ventilated? All that is unknown.
“The Government totally understands that whatever mitigation measures we do have to put in place needs to be ones that are realistic in the term in terms of timescale, and affordable.
“Because if, for instance, government said you need to upgrade all your ventilation systems, those are kind of multi-thousand pound projects that take months to happen.
“So we’re hoping that social distancing is lifted and the mitigation measures that Government requires, are ones that are achievable and affordable, even for the smallest theatres.
“Many smaller theatres don’t have any ventilation other than fresh air, they open doors and windows. So we want to make sure that all theatres are included, when hopefully we get to step four.”
Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said: “Today’s confirmation that step three of the Government roadmap will go ahead on May 17 is very good news, allowing England’s theatre industry to begin the process of reopening.
“A number of theatres will be welcoming audiences back to socially distanced performances while also creating work for our world leading workforce.
“Theatres will be following our industry wide See it Safely protocols to ensure a consistency of customer experience and that the latest government Covid guidelines are being followed.
“We are optimistic that this announcement paves the way for a full reopening from June 21, and it is hugely encouraging to see audience confidence growing, reflected in increasing ticket sales.”
Maria Balshaw, the director of Tate and chair of the National Museum Directors’ Council, said she was delighted museums and galleries would be able to welcome back visitors.
She said: “I’m thrilled that Tate will be reopening next week alongside museums across the country.
“We know there is a palpable appetite out there for people to safely share cultural experiences, to feel connected to each other again, and to support the recovery of the museums they love.
“After a long and difficult winter, the arts and culture sector has never had a more important role to play at the heart of our communities.”