We are cautiously encouraged to see the government’s most recent four step roadmap out of the latest lockdown, but of course these plans all depend on the easing of restrictions in the Spring.
If you’re not aware, the government has set out four key test which need to be met before the four steps to kickstarting the economy can be initiated. The key tests are that the vaccine roll out is successful, new variants do not pose a threat, the cases continue to fall, and the NHS is not overwhelmed.
All being well, step 3 of the roadmap will begin in April with the government’s piloting of indoor events without social distancing, which will include additional safety measures such as rapid testing. If these pilots are successful and the key tests have been met, theatres can reopen ‘no earlier than’ 17th May with a socially distanced capacity. By 21st June, it is hoped that social distancing measures will have been eased and theatres could be reopened fully.
I think that having the staged and gradual approach to opening in May is sensible, as there are so many things that need to be addressed and organised between now and then. Theatres come back is going to take time to arrange in terms of speaking to investors, bringing casts back together, rehearsals etc, before performances are ready. Larger venues such as West End theatres need a great deal of time and investment to put on productions, so will they be ready for 17th May or will they reopen later?
Being given a ‘no earlier than’ date has been welcomed by many in the industry, as it allows theatre companies and producers to work towards something and start looking at possibilities to plan their return. We weren’t given this detail last year, which made it extremely difficult to plan ahead.
Nica Burns of Nimax Theatre’s has already said that; “We are definitely going to open all six theatres with social distancing.” The Oxford Playhouse and Shakespeare’s Globe are also committed to opening.
For the larger venues, being open with a socially distanced capacity still isn’t viable, as they are still not making a great deal of money. However, as Nica Burns recently said, "Losses are less with the doors open than closed. The upside of opening is two fold: we’re better off open than closed, and also we have the absolute joy of being open and all the people who make it happen.”
Smaller theatres and regional venues may not be so lucky to be able to open with a socially distanced audience. As Jo Gordon and James Dacre, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of The Royal and Derngate, Northampton, said in their recent response: “It is going to be vital that the regional theatre sector continues to be supported by government over the coming months as we work towards doing so.”
It is an incredibly exciting time and the news that we have all been waiting for. We’re all desperate to get back to producing, directing and acting, and audiences are desperate to return for some and joy, culture and escapism. During the excitement it is vital for us all to remember that there is still a pandemic out there and we need to move forward carefully. We must not rush to the detriment of what we have all worked so hard to achieve during lockdown. The balance of health, mental health and enjoyment is extremely difficult.
The vaccine rollout and data are absolutely key here. Vaccinating the population and knowing how vaccines are having an effect on the country is crucial to us being able to open up again and plan for our future. Getting the data takes time and it is the factor most fundamental to the economy starting up again.
I feel quite positive about the journey ahead and delighted that the roadmap is treating theatre as ‘cultural necessity’. We didn’t get this level of importance at any point last year, even though performing arts play a huge role in bringing around £18.3bn to the UK economy!
Our end goal is in sight, but of course there are still many questions to be answered, challenges to face and potential reopening dates being changed. It is going to be a long process, but one I think we are all ready and determined to achieve.