The big question a lot of people are asking right now (myself included) is ‘why can Cinemas be reopening and people sit next to each other on aeroplanes, but theatres are still unable to have live performances?’.
Lewis Easter (Dancer in Wicked the Musical) raised a valid point on social media, saying “Guys, it’s not about the audience members, it’s about the castttttt! If one of us got symptoms, the whole cast is at risk. Ergo the whole cast would have to lockdown”. And this does feel like a very valid reason I had not considered before.
Hundreds of people work on each West End show. From Front of House workers to Stage Door Keepers, Stage Managers, Technical Crew, Dressers, Orchestra – the list is huge. Under current government regulations, if one person gets symptoms of Coronavirus, then everyone who has come into contact with them must self isolate for 14 days. So that takes just one person out of hundreds to get a cough or a fever, to close down the entire production for two weeks.
Cinemas have much smaller numbers of staff that would come into contact with each other, as do airline staff who form the crews on individual flights – so if there were to be a contamination risk there, there are probably several back up groups of staff who can fill in for those jobs whilst in lockdown.
One thing theatres don’t have is an understudy for every part of the team that works together to put on a show and so if one person gets a cold, that is the entire theatre shut down again which would just be disastrous and leave theatregoers constantly in limbo about whether or not booking in advance for a show would be worth it.
One thing that is for sure is that with pubs, shops and restaurants starting to open again from this weekend, one way or another, we are going to start to see how much of a handle the UK has got on this virus, whether or not we will all end up back in lockdown because it has happened too soon, or if things seem to be steadily working, the virus no longer spreading and then hopefully the government will be able to give a better timeline for when theatres can reopen.