Government's roadmap to reopening theatres: what to expect next
Venues, artists and producers are grappling with Monday's news that venues might be able to open at capacity from the summer
On Monday, the government unveiled a 68-page roadmap to reopening. It is a heartening step forwards and, while obviously everyone has to remain cautious, gives a lot more detail to work with. But what happens next? We pick up on some key questions and issues.
All eyes are on 3 March
This is the date that the Chancellor will unveil further financial support as the vaccine roll-out continues through Spring. It is unknown if sector-specific policies will be unveiled, though a continued reduction in VAT for ticket sales is reportedly expected, as is sustained business rates relief. What desperately needs to happen is a push to help those freelancers ineligible for the SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme) – who will have been without specific aid for over a year soon.
April's pilot events
Amidst all the excitement about dates, perhaps the most vital bit of Monday's roadmap was the government's unveiling of a Events Research Programme. This scheme will see state-led pilots of rapid testing, "Covid status certification" (an alternative phrase for what has come to be dubbed vaccine / test passports) and other risk mitigation measures such as mask wearing. It's only through these pilots that we'll know what to expect in the summer.
Ticket holders best be patient
What was most striking about Monday's news was that it was, according to those in the industry, a lot more optimistic than some had anticipated – many reports had suggested community leaders were expecting an autumn return. While a whole lot of "ifs" remain, this "not before" date will provide a bit more surety as the weeks go on. Already Anything Goes has nudged back its first performance to 22 June – the day after social contact measures are reportedly set to be eased.
But it's also worth remembering that this date wasn't given to producers or venues in advance – they found out at the same time as us lay folk. Some ticketing agents have already put out messages on social media asking for patrons to bear with while they regroup and plan for the coming months.
Some organisations are ready and waiting
Nimax's Nica Burns has said she will be getting her venues open "as soon as possible" from May, while the National Theatre and spaces such as Oxford Playhouse have given similar indications. The Globe has said it hopes to run a summer season, while a variety of West End shows are also gunning for a June opening. While we may not see a glorious overnight return to live performance, there is a lot to be excited about. It's also worth bearing in mind that some venues, after the sudden December shutdown, may be a bit more cautious about unveiling plans, while waiting for a bit more certainty.
Data not dates
The oft-used government mantra was repeated by the Prime Minister a lot this month, and while he did dish out a number of dates, he always added the caveat that this was all dependent on a successful decline in cases and an efficient vaccine roll-out. So it's always worth keeping an eye on the figures to see whether or not 17 May and 21 June are going to be the saviour moments we are pining for.
Insurance is increasingly important
What the industry needs, as has been repeatedly said, is some sort of government-steered insurance offering for producers. This can mean that venues can open more certain in the knowledge that if another lockdown occurred then they wouldn't be left in dire financial straits. Reports have said that discussions are ongoing – we'll wait to see what this year provides. As the Prime Minister said on Monday, Covid will be with us even when it isn't shutting down society, so mitigating risks is always important.