It’s been a long year waiting in the wings for the theatre and events industries. But the national roadmap document, which paves the way out of the third lockdown looks like a genuine milestone of hope for live entertainment to reopen its doors.
Each government across the UK differ slightly in their approach. But going by England’s timeframe, theatres can welcome back a socially-distanced capacity of 1000 audience members (or 50 percent capacity – whichever is lower) from the 17th May. And by the 21st of June, we could be back in a world where live events have no legal limits.
However, the document does say: ‘some measures may be required even after all adults have been offered a vaccine, because neither coverage nor effectiveness of the vaccine will be 100%.’And it’s not just the science that dictates restrictions being lifted. It’s also whether the public feel comfortable in returning.
To recover properly, these spaces are dependent on getting the same audience numbers as they had pre-crisis. Some theatre goers might be happy to return regardless of restrictions being in place or not. But others will be less ready to completely throw caution to the wind and need extra reassurance from venue operators.
It’s hard to imagine a situation that’s completely without restrictions. The usual safety suspects – things like compulsory face masks, some seats left unsold and one way movement throughout the building – will likely stay in place for some time beyond the 21st June date.
One positive is that theatres and event spaces are well prepared for reopening. They’ve been proactively planning and trialling measures all year round, so many of the precautions are ready and waiting.
For example, the publicly owned National Theatre has put in place plenty of hand sanitation stations, transformed its Olivier space with physically distanced seating, and even introduced a delivery system for interval refreshments.
The PM has also said that lateral flow testing is being considered for those industries ‘that have been the toughest nuts to crack’ a category into which theatres must fall. And alongside the roadmap document, the Government has launched the Events Research Programme – a pilot scheme to trial how large events can safely return without the need for social distancing measures.
Technology looks like it could play a key role in the recovery mission too. Nathan Clark, music promoter at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, recently ran through a number of transformative tech solutions in The Guardian.
E-tickets and unmanned self-service will become the standard from now on, and apps will manage any purchase made inside an entertainment venue or theatre. UV air filtration (which kills pathogens through light exposure) and misting disinfection systems could well be introduced in the not-so-distant future. And Brudenell is putting extra investment into streaming equipment, as more venues look to offer a “hybrid” experience that combines both in-person and virtual viewing.
There is lots going on backstage to make sure the live event industries can come back with a flourish. Although many of the technological advances which will speed and smooth the return will most likely only be available to cash rich venues.
Whatever the strategy a venue puts in place to get the audience back there’s one final ingredient that’s key to their sustained success. And it lies with us – the paying public being ready and willing to return. Hopefully, after a year away, it seems likely that pent up demand will be high.
Published date: 25th March 2021
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