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Restricted audiences make opening theatre ‘not viable’

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THEATRES would not be ‘economically viable’ if audience numbers had to be cappede under coronavirus restrictions, the Jersey Opera House chairman has said.

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The Island’s arts venues are preparing for reopening but have not yet been given any indication as to when they can open their doors.

And several UK arts trusts have been critical of the decision to allow pubs to reopen while theatres must remain closed.

Both the Jersey Opera House and the Arts Centre took part in the #lightitinred initiative earlier this week by illuminating their buildings red to raise awareness across the UK for the events industry.

Pierre Horsfall, the chairman of the Jersey Opera House, said that the pandemic had given the organisation an opportunity to carry out some ‘desperately needed’ maintenance work on the theatre, but that current government social-distancing guidelines would make it impossible to welcome audiences back.

‘A survey was done of the building last year and we have leaking roofs and need to improve our disabled access. This is the perfect time to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Using alternate seating rows won’t eliminate the social-distancing problem as people often need to get in and out of their seats for various reasons.’

He added: ‘An empty theatre with minimal capacity will reduce the atmosphere a performance craves and it is not economically viable to rehearse, schedule and put on a show with limited numbers in attendance.’

Meanwhile, Daniel Austin, director at the Arts Centre, likened the current situation to having to complete a ‘10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without having the picture’. He added that the team at the Arts Centre was trying to put the pieces together by introducing a seven-stage recovery plan to work towards a reopening.

‘We’re in a unique position whereby we have time to prepare for the day we can open. It is important to take our time to ensure a safe experience for future customers. Our business relies on significant advanced scheduling and programming. Even if we could open, it is still going to take months to plan,’ he added.

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Mr Austin felt each business was unique, which affected the time needed to prepare for reopening. He said pubs had the ability to open instantly as less preparation was required.

In the meantime, the centre has been receiving its revenue grant from the States and has delivered over 640 online experiences through its website during lockdown in an aim to keep people engaged.

Earlier this week, the UK government announced a £1.57 billion support package for the arts, aimed to protect the future of Britain’s museums, galleries and theatres.

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