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Culture Secretary wants faster return to live theatre

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden

Theatres and sports stadiums could be allowed to open without social distancing within weeks under new plans from government.

Earlier this week, culture secretary Oliver Dowden asked his officials to move quickly towards conditions in which crowds might return to large venues and theatres.

The team responsible for the “eat out to help out” scheme, which encouraged greater use of restaurants, is now drawing up a “seat out to help out” plan to persuade people back to cultural events by means of a subsidy for each theatre seat booked or some similar incentive.

Dowden claims the arts are “waiting in the wings” to get full shows back on at Christmas and is suggesting his “Operation Sleeping Beauty” can bring back theatre for families this winter.

Previous guidance ruled that the earliest decision on live theatre's full return wouldn't be made until early November. But officials are now hoping to bring theatre back sooner. 

Dowden wrote in the Mail on Sunday that we are “going to have to innovate and be bold to save the things we love.

"We funded a scientific study to examine the transmission risks associated with singing or playing," the minister said.

“When the study showed those activities posed no higher risk than shouting or speaking, we scrapped the extra restrictions. We’re going to keep doing more. Mass indoor events are now in my sights.

“We need to start filling seats in much larger numbers – not just for the audiences, not just for the venues and livelihoods who depend on them, but for the entire urban economy.

“Innovation is key: it has the ability to rewrite the entire script, and I’m keen to take some of the best experimental ideas for getting people into our theatres safely and put them into practice.”

He suggested using technology to improve venue ventilation, saliva testing and, in the short term, on-the-day testing that allows those with a negative result to attend a show that evening.

“There are people waiting in the wings to get full performances back on during the crucial Christmas period – and I want to support them,” he said. 

Most of his comments seemed more concerned with music and concert performances, rather than theatre productions. The latter take far longer to organise, as the loss of dozens of Christmas shows has already shown.

Other countries are already doing more, including scientific studies on crowded venues: “I won’t allow the UK to be a laggard in the race to return live theatre,” he claimed. “If we cherish the hustle and bustle of our cities and our vibrant urban economy, then we need to show our cultural organisations and businesses support now.”


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