Theatres can reopen

May 11 2021 | By More

Limited reopening set for Monday May 17

Theatres will be allowed to reopen, albeit with strict social distancing requirements and limited audiences, from Monday May 17 2021 as most of Scotland moves into Level 2 of Covid lockdown.

The date will also see amateur performing arts groups able to perform outdoors.

However, the good news is tempered by the fact that the two-meter physical distancing requirement at all performances will cap audiences at well below the permitted level of 100, limit backstage interaction and make presenting and producing commercial work financially unviable in almost all contexts.

Social distancing won’t fill theatres. The audience during a performance of Blindness due to play at the Festival Theatre in a socially distant production. Pic: Helen Maybanks

Edinburgh’s Lyceum, Traverse and Capital Theatres are part of the Scottish Theatre Producing Consortium, which has put out a release with the Federation of Scottish Theatres, a member organisation representing 260 venues, freelancers and backstage workers and independent producing companies.

The release outlines the pitfalls of current Scottish Government plans for continuing social distancing at theatres and other venues – and the iniquity of doing so while other parts of the entertainment sector are not limited in the same way.

It adds that, without a change to the guidance, significantly more public sector finance will be required to protect an already deeply damaged sector.

Under the current guidelines, issued on Monday 26 April, the two-meter requirement will continue through all levels of lockdown – through to, and including, Level 0. It will only change when all lockdown measures are lifted.

under review

At two-meter social distancing the 1,915 capacity Festival Theatre would be only able to admit 401 patrons, 19% of capacity, and the 628 seat Lyceum could accommodate 50 patrons, 8% of capacity.

However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has committed to review the situation of physical distancing for events, which under the guidance includes performances as theatres, comedy clubs and other performing arts venues.

Nicola Sturgeon during the Covid briefing on Tuesday 11 May 2021. Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Speaking at the first Covid-briefing after the election, on Tuesday 11 May, Sturgeon said: “We will continue to review the rules on events, in consultation with the events sector and updated guidance may well be published during the next three weeks.

“We will be reviewing the guidance on physical distancing – which is relevant to the events sector and also to many other businesses. If it is possible over the next few weeks to relax the current rules and guidance on this, we will certainly do so.

Under questioning, she added: “over the next three weeks we will be assessing physical distancing more generally – so whether or not the current guidance on physical distancing for place like theatres can be relaxed at all  – and we will set out the conclusions of that at the next review.”


She also announced that Creative Scotland will be given an additional £40 million of funding to hand out in a second round of the Cultural Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund and also the Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund. She said the purpose of that will be to help organisations that didn’t receive funding in the first round.

Scotland is due to move on to Level 1 on Monday 7 June. The major issue for theatres is not knowing when changes in the social distancing might take place.

Without certainty, tours of UK productions will not book into the Playhouse, King’s and Festival theatres. Edinburgh’s own productions take time to plan and rehearse.

There is also the little matter of the Fringe in August, which would be virtually impossible under two-meter distancing rules.



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