OPEN THEATRES SAFELY CAMPAIGN
On Tuesday 15 June 2021, President Ramaphosa announced that the country will revert to Lockdown Level 3 in order to contain the third wave spread of the coronavirus. Commensurate with Lockdown Level 3, are the regulations published by the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture that have formally limited theatre audiences to 50. This will again have a severe impact on theatre and dance, an industry that has already been decimated by audience restrictions and curfews. These necessary lockdown measures have directly contributed to the permanent and temporary closure of theatres and the cancellation of festivals and events that have made the performing arts sector – precarious even in ‘normal conditions’ – increasingly unviable. Research conducted by the South African Cultural Observatory documented how hundreds of creative enterprises lost up to 75% of the income almost overnight, with the ‘performance and celebration’ domain (inclusive of theatre, dance, music and festivals) hardest hit.
The limitations on gatherings, prescribed in Regulation 72 of the Disaster Management Regulations, have been tightened and relaxed over the last few months, creating both the opportunities for live events (albeit not on a feasible scale), but also significant instability.
A dispensation needs to be created that will allow performance spaces hosting cultural events such as dance and theatre productions with the capacity to safely host larger audiences than the prevailing 50 prescribed for “indoor gatherings”.
This document recommends a nuanced approach to the opening of performance spaces that recognises the different capacities of venues and that venues can be opened safely in terms of COVID-19 protocols. This approach also resonates with government’s commitment to job retention and job creation in that it makes income-generation more possible through the box office.
Towards a more sustainable approach
The Theatre and Dance Alliance on behalf of theatres, festivals and performance spaces across the country would like to request consideration of a direction for the sector that allows for flexible administration of venue capacity based on the nature of the performance space and not the classification as a “gathering” per the prevailing regulations. This intervention is critical for the long-term sustainability of the sector, and in the short term to retain employment by improving the viability of current activities under the Disaster Management Regulations.
The request to the Minister is thus to:
Issue a direction in terms of the Disaster Management Regulations for the performing arts sector that allows for cultural events hosted at performance spaces to accommodate audiences of up to the maximum number that can be safely accommodated at 1,5 metres distance from each other and the mandatory publication of venue capacity prominently at the performance space;
The creation of a register of performance spaces and capacities published on the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture website;
Should verification of capacity and COVID-19 protocols be required, the devolution of this responsibility to provincial departments of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture as follows:
Based on written applications and submissions describing the venue and capacity by the performance space administrator/owner;
Provincial governments establish a standing committee (comprising provincial arts and health officials, knowledgeable representatives of the local performing arts sector and other relevant stakeholders) to conduct site inspections to confirm the seating capacities of performance spaces and COVID-19 safety protocols back stage and front of house and issue a notice confirming the verified capacity.
New and ad hoc spaces e.g. festival venues, school halls, etc that wish to host cultural events such as theatre and/or dance performances will be obliged to apply to their relevant provincial department for venue verification if the planned capacity exceeds that prescribed by the prevailing Disaster Management Regulations.
Malls, shops and restaurants that accommodate a variety of patrons on a daily basis are generally open and functioning within COVID-19 protocols. There are far fewer theatres in the country, so that it is entirely possible to determine the maximum capacity of most, if not all, theatres nationally within a matter of months. Each theatre will then have a public sign indicating its maximum capacity, irrespective of the lockdown level. This would apply to small theatres with a normal capacity of less than 100 as well as multi-venue complexes that have different sized venues.
Along with the bespoke opening of theatre spaces, there would be a commitment by such spaces to follow and abide by a national set of COVID-19 protocols developed by the theatre sector and approved by the provincial committees and/or by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. These protocols are to be included in a living document that is updated as necessary to accommodate learnings, insights and changing circumstances as these develop.
Notwithstanding the right of theatres and ad hoc performance spaces to open to an agreed number, each theatre, festival and producing agency would – in the light of their respective circumstances and considerations (age of audiences, requirements of sponsors, geographical location of venues, etc) have a right to decide whether to open or not, and if so, with what capacity up to the maximum capacity independently agreed to for their respective venue/s.
COVID SAFETY MANUAL FOR THEATRES
TADA recently launched a Covid Safety Manual for theatres and is currently presenting this to government for adoption in order to reopen our theatres, festivals and performance spaces in the safest way possible.
The manual is a living document that can be adapted as more information about the Corona Virus is made available and will always be in line with national health and safety regulations as issued by the South African Government.
Click on the image to download the Safety Manual.