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Equity: 'Hints at a November reopening are welcome, but specifics, support and subsidy essential'

The arts union has responded to rumblings about imminent reopening plans

A theatre with a lone occupant

Artists union Equity has responded today to reports surrounding a return of live performance without social distancing.

According to an article printed in The Sunday Times, Whitehall is pushing for a reopening of venues without distancing, alongside a mass increase in testing to help track the spread of the virus.

Equity's president Maureen Beattie said today: "Our members have woken up this morning to news that the government intends to re-open live performance without social distancing – including theatre and variety – from the 1 November.

"The tireless campaigning of Equity's deputies, activists, branches and members has been the key factor in getting our industry – a powerhouse for the economy – to its rightful place at the top of the agenda. Together, we'll keep up the pressure.

"In short, if the government really intends a safe reopening in November, we welcome that - but it can only be a reality if they engage with the workforce and its unions to ensure workforce protection, the protection of infrastructure, a safe opening subsidy, and investment to secure real equality for already marginalised artists and other creative practitioners. These conditions, Equity's Four Pillar Plan, are essential no matter when re-opening happens – or we face a workforce and industry collapse."

In short, simply reopening venues without distancing will not be a fix-all for the arts community, as an opening of spaces doesn't mean that audiences will be able to fill them, or that venues will be able to financially support any discount schemes the government is reportedly championing, as general secretary-elect Paul W Fleming highlights:

"Non-socially distanced re-opening is only a reality if the government provides a financial safety net to the variety and theatre workforce and producers in the event of further stoppages due to reasonable public health precautions.

"Equity is particularly concerned at the suggestion that the government will make demands for 'dynamic pricing' of theatre tickets without any additional funding available for theatres. Large swathes of traditional theatre-goers are still making shielding-style precautions, and so capacity can only be realised by encouraging new audiences. This can only happen with meaningful investment.

"By November, much of the permanently engaged theatre workforce are already facing the prospect of redundancy. The Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEEIS) never adequately covered our workforce, and is now being ripped away prematurely. The effect of this, even if live performance reopens, would be a flood of Equity members leaving the industry – disproportionately from under-represented and marginalised groups."


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