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Performing arts sector ‘shaken’ by new Covid rules

Tom Horton, PA
·3-min read

The Prime Minister’s tightening of coronavirus measures in the tiered system has “shaken” the performing arts sector, according to an organisation representing theatres.

Venues in England will have to close in the top tier of restrictions, and audience capacity limits will be set for venues in areas where performances are permitted.

The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre’s chief executive Julian Bird criticised the move by Boris Johnson.

“Today’s announcement of new restrictions for performing arts venues in all tiers has shaken an already fragile sector,” he said in a statement.

“Closure of venues in Tier 3 areas will mean cancellation of pantos and other shows, risking organisations’ long-term survival and leaving theatre freelancers adrift with no compensation.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“The capacity constraints in Tiers 1 and 2 will lead to financial problems for venues and disappointment for audiences.

“It is unclear why these have been instituted in a sector with no known spread of the virus.”

He added that “we remain committed to working with Government to secure the survival of our world-leading theatre sector”.

Dave Hutchinson, chief executive of the Selladoor Worldwide theatre company, also criticised the move.

He said on Twitter that Tier 3 restrictions cause “further uncertainty as we must pause, again, and wait”.

“If ever there was a sector waiting for its slot on the runway, it’s theatre,” he said.

The Theatres Trust said it welcomes the news that venues will be able to open in some parts of the country.

Director Jon Morgan said it would be a “huge relief” for theatres in areas which are placed under Tiers 1 and 2 restrictions.

“However, it remains the case that, for the majority of theatres, it is simply not viable to reopen with social distancing in place, so many theatres will not reopen even in the lower tiers,” he added.

“We are encouraged by positive developments in finding a vaccine and the introduction of mass testing, however if there are any delays in the timetables for these, theatres are only supported by the extension of the furlough scheme and Government grants until the end of March.

“It is therefore essential that work continues across the sector and with the Government to identify mitigating measures that might allow fuller audiences to return safely to theatres as soon as possible.”

Capital FM Monster Mash Up with Voxi by Vodafone – London
(Matt Crossick/PA)

Phil Bowdery, chair of the Concert Promoters Association, said the changes to the coronavirus rules are a “huge blow for the live music industry”.

In Tier 2, venues will only be able to serve alcohol alongside a substantial meal.

“It’s enormously disappointing that venues which have worked hard to operate safely under the existing guidelines, are now subject to additional, arbitrary restrictions on audience numbers,” Mr Bowdery said.

“And by removing alcohol sales on top, any notion of being able to operate profitably now evaporates.

“We need an urgent exemption from this new rule for ticketed events, including grassroots venues.”

Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, said there should be “equivalency” between the consumption of culture and the consumption of food alongside alcohol.

“We believe consistency within the restrictions is the most likely route by which the public will understand and comply with them,” he said.

“We therefore strongly encourage the Government to think again on the specifics of Tier 2 restrictions in relation to ticketed cultural events.”