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Uncertainty delays arts and entertainment sector reopening plan

Theatre Forum thanks the Minister and Department team for the opportunity to contribute to yesterday’s Stakeholder Forum and welcomes the Minister’s commitment to convene the next Forum on Wednesday week to update the sector.

It’s obvious that all parts of our sector, from commercial interests to publicly funded organisations, require a reopening plan and date to plan for the remainder of this year and prevent the further disintegration of the sector.

Our Covid thinking has been cautious with guidelines, levels and protocols top of mind. This has resulted in the sector’s adherence to the highest public health and safety standards and demonstrated its ability to expertly manage events. Looking to reopening, social distance, masks, vaccination passports, tests, and capacity options have all been considered in detail.

With 90% of the adult population now vaccinated and other parts of society already open, this badly hit sector urgently needs a plan for festivals and promoters, theatres, venues and arts centres as well as the artists and arts workers desperately trying to survive the hardest gig of all – not working.

According to Theatre Forum’s recently published Review of Pay and Conditions in the Performing Arts in Ireland in 2019 and 2020, 67% of theatres, arts centres and venues said they cut jobs in 2020. 60% of these were temporary and freelance roles linked to the creation, production and presentation of live performance. Right now, the long-awaited reopening date and plan are essential to get artists and arts workers back to work and to retain their talent and experience after the pandemic.

At this critical point, Theatre Forum urges the Minister to secure a return to full or near-full capacity for indoor events with admission on presentation of vaccine passports and/or test results from the earliest possible date. This is vital for producers and festivals to salvage what they can and make the most of these next critical few months as well as enabling organisations to effectively plan for the remainder of 2021 and 2022.

The approach of full or near-full capacity events with vaccine passports and /or testing is a tried and tested one. Such an approach would take account of the mixed ecology of the arts, culture and entertainment sector. While it allows for full capacity events subject to all relevant health and safety protocols, publicly funded arts centres, venues and theatres, would have the option of developing their own plan and timeline. Plans could include socially distanced performances for a period or selected performances, for screenings for groups with safety or access requirements, or take a % capacity approach building up to full capacity in stages. Importantly though, each plan would be informed by the needs of its own team, community, and audience and the pace at which that theatre, venue or arts centre decides to reopen.

Theatre Forum is committed to updating the information and resources useful to members. As soon as the Minister announces the reopening plan and dates, we will convene a Members’ Meeting to inform your planning for what we all hope is the very last phase of this Covid crisis.

Photo Credit ©Ste Murray