One of the industries that has suffered significantly during the COVID lockdown is the theatre industry. The nature of theatre is that actors and audience members are often in close proximity. As a result, the need for social distancing caused many venues to close, leaving huge uncertainty over what to do about already-sold tickets and how to find ways to allow this area of the arts to reopen while pandemic rules continue. These are some of the ways that the theatre industry has begun to adapt to the post-COVID world.
The most obvious solution to the issues presented by social distancing guidelines has been to put on outdoor performances. The first steps were taken by the industry towards adapting to the post-COVID world as venues such as Regents Park Open Air Theatre opened up once again. However, even outside the need to ensure social distancing considerably reduced the number of tickets that could be sold and this has created some economic challenges.
As of 15th August the government once again made it possible for indoor performances to take place as long as they are on a socially distanced basis. The Death Of England sequel at the National Theatre and Alan Bennett’s Talking Head monologues at the Bridge Theatre are just two of those productions that have already announced reopening dates. However, the same issues remain for theatres, especially many of the smaller locations where staging productions to much reduced audiences is very problematic.
When might we see a return to full capacity?
At the moment the government has made it clear that this isn’t even on the table until November this year. With the Christmas season – and the run up to it – one of the busiest time for theatres that’s quite a considerable obstacle to overcome. Whether it’s pantomime or another production, most theatres would already be looking to book up seats for the season now – and that’s impossible to do without knowing what kind of capacity will be available.
How is the industry helping theatre fans to adapt?
While the current restrictions are a challenge the industry is adapting to allow fans to continue to support in a number of different ways:
• Enjoying outdoor performances while the weather in the UK makes it possible. • Booking tickets for socially distanced performances as these happen around the country.
• Signing up for newsletters to stay on top of all the latest news in terms of reopening dates and the different performances that are going to be possible, and when.
• Buying theatre tokens – these enable people to continue to support the industry by investing in future performances.
• Making donations – from the Theatre Artists Fund to making donations to local theatres there are many ways that the industry is making it easier for the public to provide financial help.
It’s a challenging moment for the theatre industry and likely to remain so for some time. However, there are ways in which a return to some normality is possible as venues start to adapt. Set design and performances also need to allow performers to socially distance, this is why a set design agency must be innovative and quickly to get the theatre back on its feet.