Outdoor theatres have called on the government to allow them to reopen, labelling it “ludicrous” that they cannot operate when pub gardens are due to reopen tomorrow.
Venues including the Minack Theatre in Cornwall and Brighton Open Air Theatre have said they are ready to safely welcome back audiences, and have called on the government to give them the green light to do so.
Minack Theatre’s executive director Zoë Curnow described it as "ludicrous" that people are allowed to go to pubs from July 4 or travel on planes, but not be allowed to watch theatre in an open air space.
Curnow said: "The announcement [of a roadmap for the reopening of theatres] from Oliver Dowden may be helpful for the sector as a whole and is logical.
"However, we implore the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to give an imminent date for step three [allowing outdoor performances]. The British summer is passing us by and we have performances ready to stage live and safely to an audience."
She added: "There is no rationale to invest in rehearsals until we know when performances can happen.
"Several of the productions that are in the Minack’s programme are not going to need lengthy rehearsal periods, however we do need time to promote them in order to ensure we sell enough tickets (with a socially distanced audience) to make them financially successful."
Brighton Open Air Theatre’s general manager Will Mytum described it as "incredibly frustrating" that outdoor venues cannot yet host performances.
Mytum told The Stage: "If pubs are able to open from July 4, it stands to reason that open-air theatres should be able to as well.
"The risk of virus transmission is lowered exponentially in an outdoor environment, and with the relevant Covid-secure measures in place, open-air venues would be far safer than any beer garden.
"The audience will be seated in a still position, socially distanced, all facing forward and not talking. Performers will be socially distanced from the audience and each other. And crucially - it’s all outdoors."
Mytum added: "By contrast, pubs are cramped, with lots of people talking loudly at once in an indoor environment. It beggar’s belief that pubs are considered safer than outdoor venues."
According to Mytum, Brighton Open Air Theatre has all the relevant safety measures in place and a full programme of work booked for August and September.
He added: "We’ve already lost three months of our summer season, and to lose the rest would be catastrophic.
"We’re completely dormant between October and April, so the next two to three months would constitute our entire annual income."
Sterts Theatre, which is a covered open air theatre in Cornwall, is hoping to be able to reopen to audiences from July 17.
Centre director Peter Woodward said: "We are able to manage numbers in exactly the same way as pubs or shops or tourist attractions and in the case of theatres like Sterts and the Minack we are open air, which all of the scientific evidence shows is safer than being in a building.
"Sterts wasn’t entirely open air, but when the detailed guidance came out in May it was obvious that to achieve step three and meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines we would have to make changes, which we have done at considerable expense."
Steps the theatre has taken to meet government guidelines include reducing capacity, introducing automatic hand sanitiser stations and buying non-contact thermometers for performers and volunteers.
Woodward said that the theatre is "absolutely ready to open" safely, and that he feels "aggrieved and frustrated" that it is unable to do so.
He added: "We are predicting that if we get to operate the season with our revised programme then we will be around 70% down on projected turnover. A desperate but survivable situation.
"If we lose the summer season altogether we are 100% down, we can’t do anything else. Our cafe and bar are closed because we can’t make them safe and due to performing rights we cannot stream old performances to generate donations. Sterts would have to be mothballed."
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has already rescheduled all of its performances to 2021, but said it would welcome the safe reopening of outdoor theatres earlier than this.
A statement from the venue said: "Of course, if it is safe to do so, we endorse this call to government to allow outdoor performances to go ahead and we continue to explore ways in which we might be able to work with partners to find an economic way for us to be able to open for a shorter period later this summer."
DCMS has been contacted for comment.