Why Social Distancing in Theatres isn’t just about sitting spaced out

The New York Times have shared this image of a concert at the State Theater of Hesse in Wiesbaden, Germany, which normally seats 1,000, but had fewer than 200 audience members this week, due to social distancing rules.

It’s pretty clear that most UK theatres couldn’t survive on audiences as small as this, as they would never make any money but these images of people spaced out in seats (so they are sat far away enough from each other) are the only social distancing measurements I have seen people talking about online.

But how do you get to that point of having those people sitting in the auditorium with social distancing in place?

Most UK theatres (ones in London especially) were built so long ago, the conditions are very cramped. Reception areas and bars are small and it would be impossible to socially distance more than ten people in them (I imagine).

Then you have the issue of the amount of space there is for people to pass between seats in rows, to get to their allocated seat.

We all know it is often like sitting on other peoples laps trying to squeeze through and so the only way to get people in and out of the auditorium safely would surely be to make everyone line up around the building, in number and row order so people can file in at a socially distanced space and not have to brush past anyone.

Can you imagine the time and effort that would have to go in to arranging ticket holders in numerical order, outside the theatre – and also how long the line would be?!

Now, I am just thinking this through myself and am not in charge of any theatres or involved in any talks going on behind the scenes about how things might work if theatres were to reopen – but thinking it through logically, I agree with the producers that have said that social distancing in theatres will not be possible.

And so how long will it take before we can go back to the theatre when people are suggesting social distancing could be in place for quite a while yet?

Photo: Gordon Welters for The New York Times