Reopening Challenges – Welcoming Audiences Back to Theatres
Following the Government announcement last week of the phased reopening of the Live Entertainment and Arts sector, theatres and arts centres are working towards what will hopefully be a full easing of restrictions by 22nd October. The new guidelines offer clarity on venue capacities, vaccination status and social distancing, and a summary of the key dates and guideline changes can be found here.
While the phased reopening continues throughout September and October, considerations are being put in place in venues across the country to ensure that audiences can return to auditoria and foyers safely. In the UK, theatres are already open and welcoming audiences back, and while the excitement of a return to live performance is palpable, there are still some concerns about returning to venues from some theatre goers. In a recent article in The Stage, different ways in which venues are adapting to the reopening of their spaces were outlined to ensure an enjoyable experience for both audiences and staff. Here are some of the ideas that have been tested by theatres, and plans that can be put in place for welcoming audiences back.
A reminder when audiences are buying their tickets online of new systems and what they can expect at the venue will allow theatre goers to prepare for re-entering the theatre space. This may include letting patrons know when they are purchasing their tickets that they will need to have a vaccine cert to gain entry. Placing a short video on the website homepage could be a quick way of demonstrating safety measures to dispel anxieties and also welcome audiences returning to the venue.
Front of House
Ensuring staff are up to speed with the latest government guidelines and familiar with new Covid-friendly systems in the venue will help to create a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. A staff pack sent out in advance to employees or in-house training on the first day back will mean staff are well-informed and confident as they return to the workplace.
Providing signage of one-way systems and hand sanitiser stations will make it easy for patrons to adhere to safety measures and avoid confusion. These can be presented in a colourful, positive way, encouraging audience members to adhere to safety procedures.
Socially distanced performances
Even as we move towards a return to full capacity productions, having the option of a socially distanced performance once a week during a run gives more cautious theatre goers the option of seeing the show at their own comfort level.
Room to move
Operating at a slightly reduced capacity from guideline recommendations has been implemented very successfully by at least one UK venue, allowing for patrons to be moved to alternative seating should they request to do so.
In the case of venues with access to a balcony or a higher level of seating, considerations could be made to see these seats used in a socially distant capacity, while stall seats can return to full capacity once Government guidelines allow.
Alternatively, having two performances of the same show in one night would allow venues to operate at a reduced capacity but with time in between shows to circulate fresh airflow.
When planning routes for audience members within the venue, reduce the amount of touch points so that possible areas of cross-contamination are limited. This could include keeping the doors to the auditorium open while audiences are taking their seats and encouraging the public to have tickets ready to scan on their phones rather than using paper tickets.
As well as limiting the amount of physical touch points, QR codes can also be beneficial in speeding up queuing at venues. Some theatres with small foyers may have to have audiences queuing outside for shows, so having a QR system in place will ensure it will be as efficient as possible once the doors open.
In some cases, venues will implement a pod system to allow for social distancing between mixed vaccination-status groups. Having ushers to show each pod to their seat and then guiding them out of the auditorium after the show will help reduce areas of congestion in aisles and stairways.
As guidelines continue to change and update, programmes and plans may have to change to accommodate new regulations. Theatre Forum will continue to keep our members updated on any changes to safety protocols or Government guidelines as the sector hopefully moves towards a full capacity reopening, prioritising the safety of staff and patrons.
After a whirlwind of a year for the sector, we are all getting ready to navigate through the next stages of reopening. Reacting to the rebound of closure, we are all working towards the same end goals of welcoming back our audiences safely as best we can. It’s important to remember that your team can only do their best. So celebrate the wins, no matter what size they are. We have to embrace the next stage as a new learning process where no one person is an expert. By working together and sharing learnings, we can enhance our strategies and make more informed decisions. Every move we make matters, but your steps towards full capacity programming might look and feel entirely different to that of another organisation. Assess what needs to be done at this moment, where changes need to be implemented, and how to get your entire team working together. We are wishing everyone the very best as we get ready to open the doors to our theatres, galleries, museums and arts centres once more!At Ticketsolve, we’ve been able to learn alongside our community members in the UK who began their journey to reopening earlier this summer. Hear how some of our Community members have found reopening:
Komedia is Brighton’s premier live entertainment venue presenting one of the largest, most diverse arts and entertainment programmes in the UK. Ticketsolve’s case study takes you through the reopening journey of Komedia Brighton and how their team are working around the challenges of social distancing and reduced capacities.
Venue Cymru is one of the largest venues in Wales and the UK. This case study looks at their 3 step plan for reopening in September after being closed for over 18 months.
The team at Music at Oxford share their creative solutions as they plan their season of concerts around the ‘what if’ of social distancing. Read the full blog here.