Plan to reopen theatres lacks essential information

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden at the daily Covid briefing

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Paul Genty

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Oliver Dowden proposes staged return to theatre operations, but gives no idea when

The government has proposed a five-stage schedule to get theatres – expected to be one of the last sectors to resume normal operations – back to work.

But the announcement made no mention of extra funding for theatres, many of which may be on the brink of permanent closure. Nor did it give any indication of dates by which the stages might be put into operation.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said he “desperately” wants live performances in theatres and music venues to restart as soon as he can.

“Theatres must be full to make money and performers need to be safe on stage as they sing, dance and play instruments. I am determined to ensure the performing arts do not stay closed any longer than is absolutely necessary to protect public health.”

The first two phases of the plan are already allowable: training, or physically-distanced rehearsal without an audience, and physically-distanced performances for broadcasts and recordings.

As many have pointed out, allowing rehearsal without allowing performance in front of an audience is a fairly pointless exercise, but the measure is intended to keep theatres ticking over, ready to return to full operation more quickly when a date is given.

The measure also allows for new material to be prepared and performed in a theatre for an online audience.

The third stage will be to allow performances outdoors with an audience, including pilot performances to work out the best procedures to put in place within auditoria.

The fourth stage will allow performance indoors or outdoors with a limited, distanced audience, while the final stage will be performance indoors or outdoors, with a fuller audience indoors.

Theatre practitioners have been quick to ask for dates when the later stages might be permissible, to allow planning to take place.

The government has so far declined to give specific dates (which would be virtually impossible to assess anyway), leaving theatres to continue to worry about worst-case scenarios and long periods of closure.

Early in June, Dowden claimed he was in “intricate discussions” with the Chancellor about a long-term financial rescue plan for the arts, but no plan has so far emerged.

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