Theatres are stepping up hygiene and cleaning routines in attempts to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as it emerges that actors are facing cancelled jobs and productions are being postponed as a result of the impact of the outbreak.
The vast majority of theatre performances remain unaffected, with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, the industry’s leading membership bodies, stressing the importance of “business as usual” and that there is “currently no clear rationale” for cancelling events.
An online poll by The Stage suggested uncertainty among audiences, with just over half of 2,500 respondents – 54% – saying they would be put off going to the theatre, and 46% claiming the virus would not discourage them.
While all major theatres remain open as usual, many have started responding to the outbreak, and some have begun postponing productions, blaming “economic uncertainty” resulting from Covid-19.
Andrew Lloyd Webber announced he is delaying the opening of his new Cinderella musical by six weeks until October because of the “current global circumstances”, while Chester’s Storyhouse has delayed two in-house shows due to open in May until the autumn.
Storyhouse’s artistic director Alex Clifton said: “There is an obvious uncertainty attached to the next couple of months that we couldn’t ignore. These shows represent our biggest investment of the year, so we want to make that investment at a time where we can be confident that the money we’re spending will be achieving the leverage that we want for our audiences.”
Clifton added that actors and production teams for the two shows had not yet been recruited, meaning they could be delayed with low levels of disruption.
Clifton also revealed hand sanitiser dispensers and “hygiene stations” have been installed throughout the building. No customers will be served in the venue’s cafe until their table has been fully cleared and cleaned.
Sheffield Theatres said in a statement that all its performances would go ahead as planned but that additional cleaning and disinfection measures are being implemented.
Elsewhere, David Thacker’s production of Happy Days, at Bolton Library Theatre, has been cancelled as a precautionary measure and “in the interests of the health and well-being of all students and staff” at the University of Bolton, which is producing the show.
The production’s actors will continue to rehearse the show at the university with students observing, culminating in a private performance for students and staff later this week.
There are also concerns of the impact of coronavirus on the theatre industry’s freelance workforce.
Actor Kieran Brown told The Stage he has had two separate jobs cancelled due to coronavirus fears, including work in Italy and a cruise-ship job in Sri Lanka.
Both were due to take place in the month ahead and were cancelled within hours of each other last week.
“These jobs are vital to pay my rent. I suspected with the way that things have been going that it might have some impact, but as the dates got closer I thought it might pass over and I’d be lucky. But it wasn’t to be,” Brown said.
He said he has more cruise work booked in April and May, and expressed frustration at feeling in a “waiting game” while the full impact of coronavirus becomes clear.
Brown said he was aware of other performers losing out on work due to cancellations covering periods of up to three months, while The Stage spoke to an actor who had five weeks of work cancelled at short notice due to fears over coronavirus.
Equity confirmed it is working with members who have had work cancelled amid the outbreak.