Culture Secretary offers further remarks on the future of the performing arts

Oliver Dowden spoke at today’s press briefing

The Noël Coward Theatre in the West End
The Noël Coward Theatre in the West End
© Iridescent / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has offered further comments though few concrete answers about the future of the performing arts as the lockdown continues.

Speaking at today's daily press briefing, Dowden said that: "The performing arts face enermous challenges, particularly given the impact of social distancing on live venues. I am looking hard at how we can address those challenges.

"Over the past few weeks and months I've been talking extensively and intensively with those in the creative sector to find ways through the issues…An important part of all of this is to get performances back up and running again. We've made great progress through the cultural renewal taskforce, and indeed through the events and entertainment working group which sits within that.

"What has become clear is that we need greater flexibility to overcome some of the very specific and practical obstacles to the return of live performance. Over the next week we will be convening experts in a targeted way, bringing together our leading performers in theatre, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisers. The idea is that they will work together in detail to develop a roadmap that is so badly needed to performing safely, with a particular focus on innovative ideas for performing safely.

"I know how essential our performing arts are. Culture is our calling card. It is respected around the world."

Addressing a question from "Laura from Eastbourne", Dowden further added that "it is going to be exceptionally difficult for theatres to reopen, consistent with social distancing. That is why I continue to have discussions across government to see what further support we can give theatres during this time."

When asked by journalist Robert Peston whether or not there is any chance of performances being able to recommence within the next year and what can be done to prevent hundreds of thousands of job losses, Dowden said that "I understand the need and want for these venues to return…When you're performing in a confined space there are greater risks, that's why we've given it greater attention. The first step was extending the job retention scheme, but I'm continuing to work with everyone across industry to look at what further support can be given."

Dowden has said he's been talking to producers including Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, in particular with regards to Lloyd Webber's performances in Seoul. He dismissed suggestions that even a 1m rule for social distancing would help performing arts venues reopen, though may help cinemas.

Many will be dismayed with the lack of concrete answers given by Dowden in today's briefing – especially after Mackintosh said that none of his blockbuster West End shows will reopen before 2021. The Creative Industries Federation this morning released a statement saying that: "the creative sector will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy in 2020".

In fact, that Dowden is now saying that a roadmap is only just being worked on rather than finalised may be even more cause for alarm.