Theatre licensing relaxed for small-scale performances

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Government regulation of small-scale and site-specific theatre is to be relaxed in a move that is claimed will encourage local performances across the country.

Currently, plays, live music and dance are classed as “regulated entertainment”, meaning a licence is needed for any premises hosting a public performance of a play or dance.

However, under changes to the 2003 Licensing Act, planned to be introduced in April this year, it will no longer be required to have a licence to host a play or dance performance, between the hours of 8am and 11pm, where the number of people in an audience is fewer than 500. Venues serving alcohol alongside theatre performances will still need a licence, however.

It means, for example, a theatre company hosting a site-specific production in a space where alcohol is not being served and with fewer than 500 people watching would not need a licence, which currently cost around £200.

The changes to legislation also state that schools, nurseries, hospitals, circuses and community venues, such as church halls, will be completely exempt from most forms of entertainment licensing, meaning they will be able to host productions from local groups and touring companies without the need for a licence.

The government claims the changes will save organisations that have traditionally been required to have licences hundreds of pounds in costs.

Hugh Robertson, minister for sport and tourism, said local events had “become unnecessarily bureaucratic”.

“Deregulating them will encourage local people and organisations to lay on more events and bring local people together,” he said.

When the government consulted on the changes last year, it said it believed “deregulation of some of the requirements where alcohol is not sold or supplied offers a real opportunity to help make the staging of plays and performances in smaller venues much easier”.

It added that the changes would enable “greater opportunity for site-specific theatre, for example in factories or forests”.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne welcomed the changes, and said: “Equity is delighted that further much needed entertainment licensing reform is underway. Locally-based variety, theatre, music and dance venues and the performers who appear in them are the bedrock of our creative industries. We look forward to these new measures giving new talent the chance to gain exposure and established performers more opportunities to entertain the public.”

Last year, the Live Music Act 2012 made it possible for venues in England and Wales with an alcohol licence to host live music between 8am and 11pm for an audience of fewer than 200 people for performances of amplified music. However, under the changes now announced the permitted audience ceiling has been raised from 200 to 500.