Social distancing in Scottish theatres ‘financially unviable’

Industry bodies say without a change to the guidance more cash will be needed to protect a deeply damaged sector.

Social distancing in Scottish theatres ‘financially unviable’ iStock

Scotland’s top theatres and an industry body have called on the government to urgently review social distancing requirements as restrictions are eased.

Eleven of the nation’s leading performing arts venues and the Federation of Scottish Theatre said that without a change to the current guidance more cash will be needed to protect what they say is a deeply damaged sector.

The Scottish Theatre Producing Consortium represents venues from across the country including Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre, the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, the King’s, Tron and Citizens in Glasgow, and the Festival, Traverse and Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh.

In a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Scottish Theatre, 96% of members responded that it is not economically viable for them to reopen while that level of social distancing is required.

In total, 120 organisations have collectively said that two metre social distancing makes presenting and producing work financially unviable in almost all contexts.

The Festival Theatre’s capacity has to be slashed from 1915 to 401 in order to satisfy the current requirements and the Tron can only hold 6% of it’s normal number of theatre-goers.

James Mackenzie-Blackman, chief executive of Eden Court Highlands and chair of the Scottish Touring Theatre Consortium, said: “The consortium is grateful for the intervention of the cabinet secretary, and for the reassurance from the First Minister that culture will play a critical role in the nation’s Covid recovery, but that will only be possible if we are able to plan for the months ahead.

“We are a creative and professional sector, confident that we can safely return audiences to our venues. We urge the government to recognise that the current guidance on social distancing makes a meaningful re-start of the sector almost impossible and to engage fully with the sector to address this.”

The current UK furlough scheme is due to end in September and, along with many performance freelancers excluded from the support and desperate for work, theatres say action is needed to make sure venues play their role in the coronavirus recovery.

In England, theatres can reopen with capacity capped at 50% or a 1000 people from May 17 with a plan for them to return to full capacity from June 21. There is currently no indication for when social distancing requirements will be lifted in Scotland.

On May 17, most of Scotland is expected to move to Level 2 restrictions meaning performing arts venues can hold indoor events with a maximum audience of 100 people as long as social distancing is also ensured.

The Scottish Theatre Producing Consortium believes venues can re-open safely and guidance for our sector should be brought in-line with other leisure-time industries.

Fiona Sturgeon Shea, chief executive of the Federation of Scottish Theatre said: “With the right regulations, and package of support, the sector will be able to continue making its significant contribution to the cultural, social and economic life of Scotland, as well as health and wellbeing, as part of its recovery and beyond.”

A review of Scotland’s current coronavirus restrictions is due with an announcement expected this week following the return of the government after last week’s elections.

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