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NEWS: Coronavirus rules mean return to theatre lockdowns across UK

Scores of productions devised to comply with social distancing have become casualties of the national lockdown that will run for one month from 5 November to 2 December 2020 in response to the continuing Coronavirus crisis.

Scores of productions devised to comply with social distancing have become casualties of the national lockdown that will run for one month from 5 November to 2 December 2020 in response to the continuing Coronavirus crisis.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced that entertainment venues would be included within the broad list of sectors forced to shut for the period.

Theatre producers and creatives had begun to stage new productions in socially-distanced auditoriums in recent weeks, with several venues making plans for new seasons in the coming months.

The measures introduced are due to be put before Parliament on 2 November, with a formal vote on 4 November almost certain to approve the lockdown and the measures coming into effect the next day.

It is expected that venues will return to the pre-national lockdown regime at the start of next month, in accordance with the tier level assigned to their area.

Many theatre producers have already announced that planned productions will have to been cancelled or postponed as a result of the four-week shutdown. Nimax Theatres had brought Adam Kay: This is Going to Hurt to London’s Apollo Theatre and was due to gradually open shows, including the award-winning musical Six at the Lyric Theatre and Private Peaceful at the Garrick Theatre, at its other five West End venues. Now the company has had to confirm that its theatre will be closed during the designated lockdown period.

The National Theatre also announced that performances from 5-28 November of the much-anticipated production of Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ new play Death of England: Delroy starring Michael Balogun would have to be cancelled.

Elsewhere Curve in Leicester has had to postpone its forthcoming production of The Color Purple to early 2021 and Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre has delayed its production of Rent (a pre-recorded film of the production will be available to watch from 27 November to 20 December).

The furlough scheme, which guarantees 80% of eligible workers’ wages and was due to end, will now be extended for the national lockdown period. There also remains two more grants available in the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme covering November 2020 to January 2021 and February 2021 to April 2021. However, there are many freelance workers in the performing arts who continue to not be eligible for the latter.

The prime minister said the measures were a necessity to combat the faster than expected increase in recent Coronavirus cases. “We will get through this but we must act now to contain this autumn’s surge,” commented Johnson.

There have been a number of responses to the news from industry bodies. Jon Morgan, director of the Theatres Trust, which launched its own Theatre Reopening Fund last week, said: “While we understand the absolute necessity of protecting lives at this critical time, Theatres Trust is disappointed that theatres will have to close for a further month during the November lockdown. Many theatres were only just managing to reopen or were preparing to reopen with Christmas shows and this news will come as a further blow to an already struggling sector.

“We are seeking urgent clarification whether theatre rehearsals, alongside television and film production, can continue as without this Christmas shows will not go ahead. This further setback means theatres will need to further delay their reopenings and many will still be unable to do so viably under the three tier system. While we are grateful that the government has extended the furlough scheme for a further month to cover lockdown, theatres still need further sector specific support beyond the end of November to ensure this latest blow does not lead to more closures.”

Equity general secretary Paul W Fleming commented: “Equity members will have felt a mixture of rage and confusion after tonight’s announcement from the Prime Minister. Our union is here to voice that anger, and provide some clarity.

“Every member… will be sickened at the lack of any reference to the self-employed tonight. Forty per cent of Equity members have not received a penny from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) since March – and now they don’t even deserve a mention. We need the scheme expanded and extended or the trickle of lost talent will become a flood overnight.”

A statement from the Public Campaign for the Arts added: “The arts industries have been some of the hardest hit during the pandemic. The last lockdown destroyed incomes across the sector, and for those who were just beginning a fragile recovery, this is sudden and devastating news.

“With less than a week’s notice, projects will once again have to be undone, jobs will be at risk and livelihoods thrown into disarray. Already, too many arts workers have fallen through the cracks of government support, and have been forced into unemployment.

“The extension of the furlough scheme is welcome, but without urgent support to the whole of the arts sector – and to all workers affected by this new lockdown – there will be even greater suffering, and the UK will face an even longer road to recovery.”

Lifeline to venues: Shakespeare’s Globe, Sadler’s Wells, The Old Vic, Sheffield Crucible, Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Theatre Royal Plymouth are among 35 cultural organisations that will share the second tranche of awards from the Culture Recovery Fund. Recipients will receive up to £3 million, with the total value of the latest round totalling £75 million. Some 70% of the monies will go to organisations outside London, announced the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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