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Leading theatre names sign letter to Culture Secretary to allow outdoor performing arts

Published 15 February 2021

As the nation waits anxiously for the forthcoming lockdown-exit announcement on the 22nd February, think tank OUT TO PERFORM and the COALITION FOR OPEN AIR THEATRE delivered a letter on Friday to the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden making a request on behalf of performing arts of all kinds, to allow the outdoor performing arts to spearhead the sector’s return at the earliest opportunity, due to the inherently Covid-safer environment of the rapid dispersal of aerosols outside.

A slew of major industry names have signed the letter and are hopeful that they will be able to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the government to put plans in place for this to begin. The signatories include:

  • ANNILESE MISKIMMON, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA
  • CATHERINE MALLYON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR – ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
  • NEIL CONSTABLE – CHIEF EXECUTIVE – SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE
  • OLIVER MEARS – DIRECTOR OF OPERA – ROYAL OPERA HOUSE
  • MICHELLE CAWARDINE-PALMER – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR – KNEEHIGH
  • Along with 60 other names from Arts Council funded organisations with £100m turnover to micro-sale producers joining the call

Last year’s decision to allow live outdoor performance to restart on 11th July, followed the Coalition for Open Air Theatre’s recommendations. Out to Perform estimates the impact of this decision allowed 500k people able to experience the joy of attending small-scale live performances last year, generating c. £7m in revenue.

The government’s policies also enabled outdoor carol singing in England to take place after 2nd December following Out To Perform’s Save Carol Singing campaign giving an estimated 100k people the pleasure of singing together safely for the first time since March.

The collective has requested that as the government continues to manage the difficult balance of unlocking of the economy whilst protecting public health, it should consider allowing the segment of the performing arts with the lowest Covid risks to lead the national cultural revival and reopen after lockdown ends.

Whilst the public narrative focuses on the big-ticket outdoor summer festivals, which are unlikely to operate this year due to their scale, style and long lead-times, OTP and COAT believe that focusing on smaller scale and more local outdoor events can more than fill their place, kickstarting the cultural renaissance of the UK.

THE BENEFITS

The collective says that this would:

· Be an economically-valuable and mentally-uplifting element of the British staycation 2021

· Be an international showcase for how life can get closer to normality, in advance of the G7 summit;

· Help sustain the workforce, build audiences and cultural momentum in the lead up to indoor entertainment’s re-opening later in 2021 and FestivalUK*2022.

They also asked the government to consider how ‘outside’ doesn’t just mean summer. Case studies from Out To Perform, The Minack Theatre and data from Indigo Audience research suggests people are more prepared to attend outdoor performances in all seasons and weather than in previous years due to cultural starvation.

WHAT WOULD SPRING PERFORMANCES LOOK LIKE?

The signatories to the letter, who have amassed vast experience in being able to apply rigorous Covid-prevention protocols, are hopeful that they can provide the government with advice and support, which leads to setting out a roadmap which will lead to earlier national revival of performing arts, by focusing on the part of the sector most easy to make safe. To that end it hopes that the government will consider events that are initially:

· Outdoors: where the air is Covid-safer

· Local: where audiences will, initially, be primarily from the local area

· Small-scale: under c.500 people

· Controlled seating: where social distancing can be much more easily managed between bubbles

Stuart Barr, Founder/CEO, Out To Perform and past musical director for Dame Shirley Bassey said: “We believe this is the earliest safe route for the nation to enjoy the uplift that only live entertainment can bring, as well as supporting jobs across the country. Covid is a terrible disease, and the government is right to do everything it can to reduce risk of serious illness. But DCMS guidance already states that outdoor performances are much safer than indoors due to the quick dispersal of aerosols.”

Zoe Curnow, Executive Director, The Minack Theatre said: “We are optimistic that, as long as events comply with protocols such as the well-established social distancing measures, the government will consider allowing the legion of experienced arts professionals to begin preparing for outdoor performances to resume.”

Adam Nichols, Artistic Director, OVO and The Maltings Theatre, St Albans said: “Following our successful campaign to get open air theatres reopened in 2020, the Coalition for Open Air Theatre is encouraged by recent indications that the government may consider ensuring their roadmap for coming out of lockdown allows for open air live performance to restart at the earliest safe date. We look forward to engaging in ongoing dialogue with the DCMS to make this a reality.”

The full letter can be downloaded here.

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