Government has announced the first tentative steps that will see cinemas, museums and galleries reopen to the public from July 4.
Theatres will also be allowed to reopen, but they will not be able to host live performances. This weird bodge is pretty much indicative of the approach government has taken to theatre from the beginning of this crisis – first, it didn’t tell theatres they should close, but warned audiences off visiting them; now it tells them they can reopen but can’t stage shows.
Then again, prime minister Boris Johnson is the only world leader to be actively not writing a biography of Shakespeare despite being paid a reported £500,000 advance to do so. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
No one thought this would be easy, but the government appears to be doing everything it can to make things even harder than they need to be.
We are expecting more ‘guidance’ from the government soon. The entertainment and events working group is due to produce some draft proposals on returning to “training, rehearsal and performance” that will emerge at some point – maybe even this week. This will then be consulted on.
But early impressions are not entirely positive: Andrew Lloyd Webber has said he has seen proposals that suggest singing may not be allowed in theatres when they reopen. Another person who has seen the draft guidance described it to me as a "Kafkaesque nightmare". Certainly, this appears to be in keeping with the government’s general approach so far.
Increasingly it seems, if theatre is to re-emerge from the crisis, it will do so in spite of government, rather than thanks to it.
The relaxing of the 2-metre rule in July may not make full-scale production any easier, but it might allow some other activities to take place in the many theatre buildings currently lying dark across the UK. Maybe some will be temporarily converted into cinemas. Could others be used to film and stream new theatre productions? Would that even be permitted by these new rules?
Lyn Gardner’s suggestions of how theatres can help the education sector, though, are certainly a prime example of the type of pivoting that theatres should be thinking about: if these buildings can’t stage shows, what else can they do? How else can they serve their communities? While there have already been some shining examples of this, such as Slung Low in Leeds, there is definitely scope for much more.
It is not going to be easy – in fact it is going to be extraordinarily difficult and painful – but if our special issue this week reveals one thing, it is that there is boundless passion, vision and imagination within the performing arts. We must focus on rebuilding the best possible version of our sector we can.