Theatres could reopen on Nov 1

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden is believed to working on allowing theatres and concert halls to reopen from November 1 with mass testing for audiences replacing social distancing, with full operation possible Christmas.

It is understood that fears that audiences may be reluctant to return are being addressed by an adaptation of the successful “eat out to help out” scheme to create  a “seat out to help out” plan, in which people could be persuaded to attend cultural events once the restrictions are lifted, The Times reports today. One idea being looked at would see theatres and restaurants partnering to offer cut-price deals on Mondays.

Thousands of theatre and music workers have been without work and income since the lockdown began in March, and many have had to turn their backs on their professions, and many theatres, have said they cannot open before 2021. And while encouraged by signs that live performance may at last be allowed to return to venues, Deborah Annetts, CEO of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said, many members were in despair and would welcome the promise of a chance to earn again.

“Unlike other industries, the reopening of venues and live performances cannot happen overnight” she said. “In fact planning for the Christmas shows, often the most profitable time of year, began much earlier in the year and many venues have already announced their cancellation. While concerts typically take less time to prepare, this should still be a key consideration for the government.

“That is precisely why we need a tailored financial support scheme for freelancers, who are the lifeblood of the performing arts, until venues can fully reopen… and prevent the devastation of our world leading sector.”

But West End producer Nica Burns cautiously welcomed news of Dowden's plan. "We are ready to accept his challenge and to make our venues Covid-secure so we can open our theatres fully without social distancing. We can’t wait to be able to welcome our performers back to our stages, and our audiences into our theatres” she told The Stage, adding that the government needed to add incentives for theatre owners to support production costs. “A scheme at least as good – or better – than the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. We know that by helping us, bars, cafes and restaurants around our theatres will benefit hugely and we will be able to attract hundreds of thousands of people back to the West End, who will spend money in additional economic activity” she said.

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