21st June 2021
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UK Theatre And Circus Still Waiting To Reopen

UK Theatre And Circus Still Waiting To Reopen
By Michelle Sciarrotta

Following the UK Government’s £1.57bn bail-out for the Arts, Theatre and Circus companies, groups and venues are still awaiting guidelines on when they will be able to reopen their doors.

The Theatre Sector

Worries have been circulating for some time about the Theatre sector and if it will be able to recover from the impact of Covid-19. The latest speculation from the Government is now casting doubt on whether reopening will happen in time for Pantomime season.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden speaking of the Arts funding stated that he hoped to announce plans for outdoor performances that are able to be socially distanced by mid-July. He added that without social distancing, reopening would be challenging due to the ‘tightly packed’ nature of historic Theatre buildings.

While organisations such as UK Theatre, the Royal Opera House and the Society of London Theatre welcomed the news of the support package, many are fearful the announcement has come too late for employees who have already been made redundant and those venues and organisations that have already closed their doors because of the crisis.

With no details about reopening, the initial optimism has been short-lived for many, particularly as pubs and restaurants across the UK began to ease lockdown restrictions and welcome customers again from the start of July, and plans to reopen Cinemas are underway.

When questioned by the BBC, Dowden answered:

“I would love to be able to announce that Pantos can return. I have to say it will be quite challenging to be able to get to that point. We all love going to the Panto for the joy of it, it also supports local theatres.

You have got granny through to grandchild all packed in together, you know how kids are encouraged to shout and scream at Panto season, there’s lots of interaction. So I would love us to be able to do it.

We’re working with Public Health England and others to see about mitigations but I just want to be a bit realistic about the challenges of getting us back to that point any time soon.”

The Circus Sector

While the Government’s bail-out support package listed several areas of the Arts and Culture and Heritage organisations across the UK, including construction on cultural infrastructure and projects, the Association of Circus Proprietors took to Downing Street to highlight their omission from the announcement.

When questioned about the Circus by a presenter at the announcement, Dowden did not answer. In addition to demonstrating from Downing Street to Parliament Square on 7th July, the association have penned a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, stating the urgency to reopen within the month or they won’t be able to make it. The letter states that unless there is help:

“A great British institution will be lost forever. Please save the circus. We have two weeks before the end of the road.”

Without a summer season, it could be unlikely that the sector could recover in 2021. The Association’s Chairman Martin Burton said social distancing could be observed because Big Top tents are ventilated, seating can be arranged to meet guidance requirements, and there are outside box-offices and facilities. Burton and the companies with the Association are confused as to why they were not allowed to reopen, as they are classed as outdoor events.

What Happens Next?

The Entertainment Industry across the UK awaits details of when venues might be able to hold socially distanced events inside and reopen. While temperatures have averaged at a cool 20 degrees celsius through July, outdoor events are not a viable option to all, particularly affected venues such as Theatres.

Following on from previous weeks that have seen Cirque du Soleil file for bankruptcy, and Broadway’s announcement that it won’t reopen until 2021, the UK waits with baited breath for some good news on when Theatre and Circus doors can reopen once more.

Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

Women’s Audio Mission: Free Online Learning Resources

Sophia Dalton: Interview with a London based Stage Manager

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