Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has announced a government plan to bring back theatres named “Operation Sleeping Beauty”.
While the coronavirus pandemic has caused many businesses to rework how they do things, the arts have had a much harder time than most. Theatres, in particular, have been kept back from reopening despite football stadiums and the such being open to the public. Despite the £1.57B ‘rescue package’ sent out to help struggling theatres, many have had to close permanently moving forward, including both of Southampton’s NST sites.
However, Dowden and his team are hoping to reopen theatres in time for Christmas with the new government project, saying, “we’re going to have to innovate and be bold to save the things we love.”
There is no official word on what this project entails, but Dowden has shared his thoughts on live theatre in an article written for The Mail on Sunday:
When public health experts were concerned about the return of live performances of singers and wind and brass players, saying they were potentially too high-risk without extended social distancing, I sought a second opinion. We funded a scientific study to examine the transmission risks associated with singing or playing those instruments. When the study showed those activities posed no higher risk than shouting or speaking, we scrapped the extra restrictions and performers were back on stage together within days. A three-metre distance became one metre-with-mitigations overnight. Mass indoor events are now in my sights.
I won’t allow the UK to be a laggard in the race to return live theatre. If we cherish the hustle and bustle of our cities and our vibrant urban economy, then we need to show our cultural organisations and businesses support now. We cannot guarantee plain sailing, and as with any part of reopening after lockdown, we cannot guarantee zero risk. That’s just as true when people sit next to each other on planes. But as with flying, we can minimise the threat and help adults find ways to feel a sense of normality – whether it’s by getting on a plane, enjoying a half-price meal out (as 100 million did last month), or, indeed, by visiting the theatre.
Dowden also referenced our own university in his article, “[We could use new ventilator systems] or using the saliva tests being trialled by Southampton University, which Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is looking at rolling out for performers and their families.” So when theatres are back up and running, you can wave a few thanks to the research teams at UoS for their important input.