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Uneven path to return of live entertainment in Melbourne and Sydney

Uneven path to return of live entertainment in Melbourne and Sydney
September 23, 2021

Major stage productions including Hamilton and Come from Away are set to return in Sydney when NSW’s 70% double dose vaccination target is reached in October, while stricter requirements in Melbourne shows major inconsistencies in the reopening of the performing arts sector in NSW and Victoria

The Australian production of Hamilton confirmed as of yesterday morning that it would return to the stage at the Sydney Lyric theatre from Tuesday 19th October, with tickets on sale already, while the musical Come from Away has announced its reopening from 20th October at the Capitol Theatre.

Both productions will operate under rules set by NSW Health which allow for 75% capacity in seated venues with mandatory proof of vaccination and mask-wearing.

As reported by Guardian Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company’s presentation of Death of a Salesman and Julius Caesar may also be able to proceed if the current downward trend in infection is sustained.

In Melbourne, however, theatres will only be permitted to reopen when 80% of the 16-plus population is fully vaccinated, and only to a maximum audience of 150 people - deemed an unprofitably small crowd for large productions, which typically budget for a minimum house in excess of 85%.

This means the stage curtains will remain closed for major Melbourne productions - including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Disney’s Frozen and Moulin Rouge! The Musical - for some weeks to come.

Commenting on the inconsistency, Live Performance Australia Chief Executive, Evelyn Richardson, told the Guardian “as far as we’re concerned, in Victoria right now, there is no roadmap to reopening.

“NSW is taking a very aggressive approach to reopening with 75% capacity. Victoria is taking a very slow and conservative approach. We on are two different paths.

“At 150 people, you might get the odd show opening but nothing on a commercial scale. It’s hugely disappointing. The latest roadmap gives us nothing - not even rules around rehearsals. We need to know how soon we can open at 50% and when we can move through from 75 to 100%.”

While the NSW Government’s “aggressive approach” to reopening has risks, it is widely supported within the entertainment industry, which has been shut down since late June.

Come from Away Producer Rodney Rigby, who has insisted all cast and crew will have to be vaccinated to return to the production, noted “we’re just one of thousands of businesses looking at how to reopen in the new COVID-normal.

“70% double vaccination is not too far away and we’re ready to start to re-engage with the community.”

The reopening of theatres in Sydney’s echoes its approach as of late last years, when the musicals Pippin and Disney’s Frozen along with Sydney Theatre Company productions led the world in the restart of the industry, albeit short lived.

With Victoria's roadmap out of lockdown and into recovery revealed last weekend, a mass of impending changes to metropolitan and regional entertainment venues were included to trigger at various vaccination percentages for residents aged 16 years and over.

However, the easing came against a backdrop of ongoing struggle for the sector, with Music Victoria Chief Executive Simone Schinkel highlighting a range of issues that the posed by the Victorian roadmap creates for the live performance industry.

Schinkel told The Music “disappointingly, we can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Our reading of the Roadmap is that live music will remain completely closed until we reach Phase C in November for outdoor gigs and Phase D for indoor gigs, and even then, we don’t anticipate being able to operate viably before March 2022.

 "These are impossible decisions, we respect the horrific health implications, however if this is the chosen path, then it needs to come with significant financial and policy support until we reach the other side.

"We are pleased that Minister Pearson, Minister Pulford and Creative Victoria immediately reached out to Music Victoria following the announcement and we made it very clear just how desperate and urgent this need is. The way the Victorian Government responds to this situation will shape the outcome of live music in this state for years to come - the future of $1.7 billion industry lies in their hands."

Echoing this sentiment, a statement released yesterday by the Save Our Scene campaign advised “there is no roadmap to reopening Victoria's music venues.

"The current roadmap ends at a 1 person per four metres square density quotient for venues, which is a fraction of our normal licensed capacity. You can have up to 150 people, but only if your venue is over 600 square metres - that's the Forum. Most venues cannot open at all at that level, and no venue can trade sustainably.

"Yet again, we have been brushed aside with vague assurances that there will be a plan for us at some point, but no one knows when. We don't know if there will be ongoing funding to support our sector while we remain in effective lockdown, and we can't plan ahead for when we come out. We can't schedule shows for when restrictions ease and funding support inevitably falls off a cliff.

"This lack of certainty impacts everyone in our sector, not just venues but artists, bookers, promoters, technicians, PA suppliers, publicists and everyone else in the music industry supply chain. We have effectively been in lockdown since March 2020. So many people have given up hope and to be left off the map - again - is crushing to an already decimated sector.

"We need clarity. We need transparency. We need to be part of the plan."

Images: Hamilton plans to reopen at Sydney’s Lyric theatre in October (top) and there is currently no date for when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will reopen at Melbourne's Princess Theatre (below).

About the author

Nigel Benton

Co-owner / Publisher, Australasian Leisure Management

Nigel Benton is the co-owner and publisher of Australasian Leisure Management, Australia and New Zealand’s only magazine for professionals in all areas of the leisure industry. Having established the magazine in 1997, shortly after his relocation to Australia, he has managed its readership rising to over 11,500 and its acceptance as the industry journal for professionals in aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues.

As of 2020, he has launched the new Asian Leisure Business website.

Among a range of published works and features, his comments on a Blog (blogspot) from 2007 to 2011, when this website went live in its current form, may be interesting to reflect back on.

Click here to connect with him via LinkedIn.

Read more from this author

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