For all the good that National Theatre at Home has been doing with their live-streamed productions, there’s no replacement to being back in the theatre. And while that’s appeared a long way off for a while now, there’s a glimmer of light, as the UK government has announced that indoor theatre shows, along with performances in music halls and other venues, can reopen from August 1.
The return of indoor theatre performances will hinge on the outcome of a series of pilot schemes – if they prove successful, a more widespread reopening of theatres could follow in the autumn as part of a new range of lockdown easing measures. On the move on Twitter Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, expanded:
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 the first step, it’s unlikely that you’ll see many London theatres opening their doors on August 1. Social distancing measures would limit attendance numbers to well below half of a venue’s potential, indicating 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 more precise 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 path of Cameron Mackintosh and push productions back until 2021.