WEast End theaters and directors across Britain are calling on the government to let them rely on regular Covid testing of cast and crew to avoid ‘crippling’ isolation rules that close the shows.
While the lifting of social distancing restrictions in England on Monday will allow audiences to return, the live entertainment industry is being battered by Covid’s tracking system and will not survive the summer, leading voices have said . “There are so many shows closed right now because of this,” said Julian Bird, managing director of the Society of London Theaters and the UK Theater. “It’s kind of a ‘stealth shutdown’ when we should be opening up. We’re already doing everything we need to stay safe, with daily testing and strict cleaning. “
Big budget musicals productions The prince of Egypt and Hair spray, along with Michael Ball and Les Dennis, were forced to shut down because cast members tested positive or were “pinged” by the Covid tracking app. The curtain has also fallen on the new West End magic show Wonderville and on the game Bach & fils at the Bridge Theater, which stars Simon Russell Beale.
“Sure, it’s great that in theory we can fully open for the first time in 18 months,” said Bird, “but there are crippling issues. We are discussing with the government the testing systems for our theaters and for the UK theater members, as the venues test everyone anyway, and therefore are not normal workplaces. We already have heavy restrictions in place because we can’t just bring in other people, like other companies might. “
Bird said a much-discussed cancellation insurance issue was always a hindrance: “The market just doesn’t write this insurance. We hope the government will take action on this issue, but it is not over yet.
Many industry players are also critical of the government’s confused messages that have alarmed potential viewers. Write in the Step, industry newspaper producer Richard Jordan called for legal rules requiring the wearing of face masks inside an auditorium. The Society of London Theaters and the UK Theater have made a similar plea.
At Leeds Playhouse, executive director Robin Hawkes warned of “a really confusing picture”. “For many growers it will be impossible to take risks with the prospect of an evolution of the virus or an evolution of restrictions, which means that suddenly the plug could be withdrawn,” he said.
The Theaters Trust said it needed time to understand the impact of the new guidelines before they could make recommendations. Theater owners and producers, who have spoken almost with one voice so far, are taking different positions this weekend.
Large commercial theaters are largely coming back to full capacity to cover the enormous costs of mounting productions, while subsidized theaters often stick to socially distant headquarters for at least a few weeks. Glyndebourne, the Sussex opera house, will sell out and sell the additional tickets now. The National Theater will return to full capacity from July 26, while the Liverpool Royal Court will remain socially distanced until October.
Others, like the Chichester Festival Theater, will offer both, with social distancing performances held for those with special concerns once a week this month and next year. “The shift from regulation to recommendation is confusing,” said Bird. “We’re trying to clarify it, but theater owners and producers realize that the pandemic is still very difficult to predict. “
The position on Covid vaccination passes or passports is also a source of division. While representatives of the nightlife industry spoke out against their imposition last week, mainly because they discriminate against young people, theater managers are more concerned about how to control such a policy on the front. “Some customers will be reassured that a site is using Covid certification,” Bird said, “But the truth is, we’re not really ‘high-risk’ transmission events, in the words of the search results. government conducted earlier this year. Watching a show is not the same as going to a nightclub, but there are ethical issues that need to be addressed. How do we treat people who have not been advised to get the vaccine? And what if someone shows up with a ticket without a pass? “
For Bird, the hope lies in the fact that the government does not expect new systems to be all in place this week. Top-tier theaters are likely to test best practices for advising smaller venues first when accepting larger audiences. Theaters in Scotland and Wales will remain subject to tighter restrictions, with theaters in Northern Ireland still closed.