Outdoor performances have been given the go-ahead to restart from July 11, as part of a series of new announcements by government about the ways in which theatres can reopen.
Theatre, opera, dance and music performances that take place outdoors will be allowed once more, with social distancing in place, from this weekend.
This means venues such as the Minack Theatre in Cornwall can reopen, while Glyndebourne, which is planning a summer season of outdoor music and opera, has also been given the green light to perform for audiences again.
However, no further clarity has yet been given on when theatres will be able to reopen for indoor audiences without social distancing.
Instead, the government signalled its intention to work with the performing arts sector to pilot "a small number of small indoor performances with a socially distanced audience", which it said would help inform how indoor venues can reopen again.
UK Theatre will be consulted on these plans, as will bodies such as the Association of British Orchestras and the Musicians’ Union, while the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said work being carried out by Andrew Lloyd Webber and LW Theatres at the London Palladium to make venues Covid-safe would also be included.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, culture secretary Oliver Dowden described the announcement around outdoor performances as an "important milestone" in the country’s recovery from coronavirus.
"Our performing artists deserve an audience, and now they will be getting one," he added, urging members of the public to book for outdoor plays and concerts to help restart the cultural economy.
New guidance has also been announced by DCMS, giving the first indication of the working conditions under which the performing arts will have to adhere when they restart operations.
The new guidance it would include restrictions on venue capacity and ticket sales to ensure social distancing, measures on deep cleaning of auditoria, as well as guidance around socially distancing performers.
The guidance states that performers, conductors and musicians must observe social distancing wherever possible, and that singing and the playing of brass and wind instruments in front of an audience, or in groups, is limited to professionals only.
Dowden has also commissioned a scientific study on the risks associated with singing and playing brass instruments. This will be carried out with Public Health England, professionals from the Royal Opera House and the BBC, as well as scientists.
Dowden said the measures announced would help organisations "weather the Covid storm and bounce back stronger".
“Our culture, heritage and arts are too precious to lose. That’s why we’re protecting venues like theatres from redevelopment if they fall on hard times.
“We are also giving further clarity on restart dates in our roadmap back to performance. From July 11 we can all enjoy performances outdoors with social distancing and we are working hard to get indoor audiences back as soon as we safely can, following pilots. Our scientific research project will also help speed up this journey," he said.
Elsewhere, DCMS has announced a change in planning rules to protect theatres and other performance venues from demolition or change of use by developers.
The department said this would ensure that theatres that have temporarily been made vacant during the pandemic do not disappear entirely before they are able to reopen.
In response to this, the Theatres Trust’s director Jon Morgan said the government’s move would "help prevent vacant theatres from being demolished or irreversibly changed for other uses".
"The Covid-19 lockdown has rendered otherwise vibrant theatres vulnerable to permanent closure and we have already seen four operators go into liquidation, leaving their theatres empty. These measures will help ensure these vital community assets are protected during the current crisis and can be revived to serve their local communities once again," he said.
Morgan added that the government’s announcement on dates was "disappointing" in that it gave details on outdoor performances without offering any indication on when stages four and five – when theatres will be able to fully open without social distancing – will take place.
He said: "We appreciate the difficulty in setting a date for stage five as it will always be conditional on circumstances such as the R rate remaining low, further safety tests being conducted and the safety of staff, creatives and audiences must be a priority. But without even an indicative date it is difficult for theatres to plan ahead – and for many theatres this uncertainty will be devastating."