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Social distancing rules make it financially unviable for Sydney theatres to reopen

Social distancing rules make it financially unviable for Sydney theatres to reopen
June 18, 2020

While Sydney theatre companies including Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir welcomed the NSW Government's 14th June announcement stipulating that NSW venues could replace the 50-person limit with the “one person per four square metres” rule from 1st July, they advise it is not financially viable for them to reopen until these social distancing rules are completely rolled back.

Sydney Theatre Company (STC) Executive Director, Patrick McIntyre has advised patrons that while the easing of restrictions is great news, the four square metre rule severely restricts how many tickets they can sell and adds “this means that we are still unable to re-open our theatres in time for The Picture of Dorian Gray, scheduled to run from July.”

As McIntyre explains if you apply the four-square-metres rule to the Roslyn Packer Theatre, you go from an 880-seat house to a 140-seat house. However, the costs don’t go down as there are still cast, crew and marketing expenses.

McIntyre adds that STC are working to reschedule the production of The Picture of Dorian Gray for later in the year and has advised STC patrons that “we’ll be back in touch with more information as soon as possible. All ticket holders will have the option to automatically be reseated into the new dates, but also have a number of ticket return options available.”

The STC are working together with their industry peers and the government to gain a sense of certainty around when they can reopen venues safely at full capacity and are hoping to be back on stage in September.

Issues that need to be addressed by theatres reopening under the new COVIDSafe conditions include timing of patron arrivals; number of entrances and exits required and staff numbers needed to manage; patrons and mask wearing;  protective plastic screens at point of sale areas including  bars and box office.

Belvoir Executive Director, Sue Donnelly told Broadsheet that they will trial one production under the social distancing guidelines but cautions it won’t be from 1st July and it isn’t a long-term solution adding “we’ll just start with one show on the basis it’s a very small show, because it’s cheaper. But theatre companies need more notice than a couple of weeks, so it will probably be late July.”

Live Performance Australia (LPA), the peak body representing the live performance industry, has been lobbying for a full reopening without social distancing by 15th September, a date many in the live performance industry are working towards.

Given the arts industry was the first to be shut down and will be one of the last to re-open, its future is looking increasingly concerning.

The NSW government’s $50-million “Rescue and Restart” package was welcome. However, LPA is calling on the Federal Government to do more and has developed a $345 million plan to help the live performance industry restart, rebuild and reopen for audiences following the COVID-19 shutdown.

The plan includes capital investment in performing arts companies and productions to help them restart, extending income support to businesses and individuals to retain jobs, and incentives to encourage Australians to return to live performance events.

Earlier this month, LPA Chief Executive, Evelyn Richardson noted “as we enter the 12th week of shutdowns due to the public health response, it’s well and truly time for the Federal Government to get behind Australia’s arts and entertainment industry and deliver a comprehensive and properly funded plan so our world-class industry can get back to work.

Richardson advised that the LPA welcome the Federal Government’s acknowledgement of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the arts and entertainment industry, however Richardson highlights that “it’s now time for real action backed by substantial targeted investment.”

As reported in Broadsheet, McIntyre notes that “the situation for our company is critical, as it would be for any company whose revenue is switched off for six months. We’ll need some form of capitalisation to get back on our feet ... but we’re super confident it’s a good value for money investment. Some people put the [financial return from theatre, tourism and hospitality] as high as $136 billion. So getting theatres back is important culturally and for wellbeing, but the economic contribution is very real.”

Image of The Picture of Dorian Gray promotion courtesy of STC

Related Articles

9th April 2020 - LPA welcomes additional arts support but highlights much more is needed

4th April 2020 - LPA believes funding still not enough to prevent decimation of live performance industry

23rd March 2020 - LPA seeks targeted financial stimulus for live performance industry

20th March 2020 - LPA concerned over Government’s inaction in helping cultural sector survive Coronavirus crisis

17th March 2020 - LPA calls for $850 million live performance support and stimulus package

15th March 2020 - LPA calls for urgent confirmation on timeframe for government’s ban on public events

3rd December 2019 - LPA reports live performance industry drives cultural economy but growth rate slowing

11th June 2020 - ICC Sydney launches operating framework for safe reopening of events  

2nd June 2020 - Reopening of cultural institutions coincides with Australian Government considering support for arts and entertainment sector


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