A five-stage roadmap to help get England’s beleaguered theatres, concert halls and arts centres back up and running has been published by the government.
The performing arts has been one of the sectors worst-hit by the pandemic and will be one of the last to get back on its feet.
For weeks, there have been warnings of a “cultural catastrophe” without some form of targeted help such as a cultural renewal fund. Around 70% of theatres warn that they will run out of cash by the end of the year.
Crucially, there was no mention of any extra money for the arts in a “roadmap” statement made on Thursday by the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden.
Industry leaders welcomed the announcement but said it needed to have dates so the sector can plan for the future.
The playwright James Graham called it “a reassuring flicker of light within darkness”, but added: “What is still missing of course is any investment package to be able to actually do it and, without that, we can be in no doubt that the entire theatre ecology is on the verge of absolute and total collapse.”
Dowden said: “I desperately want to raise the curtain on live performances in theatres and music venues as soon as we can – they are the soul of our nation and a linchpin
of our world-beating creative industries.
“We know the challenges – theatres must be full to make money, and performers need to be safe on stage as they sing, dance and play instruments – but I am determined to ensure the performing arts do not stay closed any longer than is absolutely necessary to protect public health.”
Dowden pointed to the success of a roadmap to get elite sport, such as football, up and running and said that phased approach would be used for performing arts.
“Whilst the challenges facing performing arts are numerous, we must have clear steps to follow and provide as much certainty as we can.”
The first two phases of the roadmap are already allowable: physically distanced rehearsal and training with no audiences; and physically distanced performances for broadcast and recording purposes.
In that second category is a series of performances by Claire Foy and Matt Smith at the Old Vic in the hit play Lungs. From 26 June it will be performed to an empty auditorium and livestreamed to a paying online audience. The theatre, which does not get public subsidy, has described its financial situation as “seriously perilous”.
The third stage of the roadmap is allowing “performances outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience”.
Stage four is “performances allowed indoors/outdoors (but with a limited distance audience)”.
The final stage is “performances allowed indoors/outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)”.
Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre/UK Theatre, welcomed the roadmap but said “it is essential that government gives indicative ‘no earlier’ than dates for stages 3 to 5 now so that the sector can plan for the future”.
With no information, theatres and producers “will have to assume a worst-case scenario and plan to be shut for long period. With the rest of the economy reopening quickly, we firmly believe that with the right safety processes in place, we can get back to full audiences in theatres within months. We now need government to confirm this.”