Open air theatre should be considered separately to indoor theatre because of the lower risk of transmission of Covid-19 outside, the executive director of Cornwall’s Minack Theatre has said.
The theatre, which is positioned a cliff top above Porthcurno beach and looks out to sea, was visited by the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson and US First Lady Jill Biden during the G7 summit.
It was also at the centre of a media flurry after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden incorrectly claimed it had benefitted from coronavirus support funding.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) subsequently apologised.
Boris Johnson’s delay to the road map easing earmarked for June 21 means theatres will have to continue operating with social distancing and reduced capacities.
Zoe Curnow told the PA news agency: “The irony is that we are very, very much here in the open air. The Prime Minister was very, very clear in February that being in the open air is much safer than being indoors, so pubs you can open your beer gardens from April, because that’s brilliant, that’s in the open air, but hang on a minute open air theatres, you can’t do anything until indoor theatres can.
“You just kind of go ‘Hang on a second, we are obviously a significantly lower Covid risk here at the Minack than any indoor theatre space, any indoor event space.
“Given in his original road map, he hung a lot of opening up on the basis of letting open air go first, it was actually that was a little bit soul destroying at that point in time (when we were told we had to wait until indoor theatres could open).
“We don’t want to do anything that is unsafe here. I don’t want to open up here. If that’s not for my audience members, for my teams on stage, or backstage, of course I don’t. I want to do things that are safe.
She continued: “I think what we’re saying is if they are going to consider whatever happens next in as Covid safe away as possible, but with the pressure to get things open, then we would ask that the open air theatre sector be allowed to because of considered separately to the indoor.
“I’m not asking for more than that.”
Ms Curnow said the extended period of social distancing will mean a schools show, which was previewed for Mrs Johnson and Dr Biden at the weekend, will not be able to be performed in front of the public.
She said: “And it’s just a bit heart-breaking if we can’t open that one up to more audience members.
“At the moment, we’ve had to limit all the participants to two tickets each, and that is all the tickets we have got.
“I can’t put that production on sale for general public. And it’s just just a real shame, because it’s got loads of amazing young people in it, who are going to do a fantastic show, which is bang-on message because it’s all about the state of the oceans and we are not going to be able to share that with the broader world.”
She said the delay to the roadmap did not come as a shock but will have financial ramifications, adding: “It’s certainly a loss of income. The extra income we would gain if we were not having to distance audiences for productions is between £40,000 and £60,000 a week so economic impact-wise wise it is huge.”
Theatre director Adam Nichols, whose production of The Winter’s Tale is due to open at the Minack on July 18, said the end of social distancing will be the difference between whether the show covers its costs or not, with six-figure margins in the balance.
He said: “We have a cast of 15, including musicians. And we have a support team of another 12.
“It is a wonderful place to go but it’s also quite an expensive place to go. And especially this year, because we’re there in the summer holidays, and everyone’s going to be in Cornwall this year, because it’s a lovely place to be, it’s costing us more.
“Accommodation is a lot more expensive than it normally is, in particular, and accommodation in that location is particularly expensive. So the costs are higher than they would normally be. And the revenue is going to be lower.”
Before the play moves to Cornwall it will have a run at the open air Roman Theatre in St Albans, where the audience will now have to be socially distanced.
Mr Nichols said: “Our financial modelling was based on reduced capacity at the Roman Theatre but many of our performances have sold out because we’ve had a really successful sales period, so (without social distancing) we would have been able to generate more revenue, which, given that we’ve made significant losses over the last year, would have been really helpful.”
He echoed the call for a differentiation between indoor and outdoor theatre, saying: “To group an outdoor theatre with indoor theatre is less logical than to group it with other outdoor attractions.
“People are seated, it’s a very controlled environment, people aren’t moving around that much within the space, so our view would be it’s a much safer environment than a lot of other outdoor leisure attractions.
“We think we should be differentiated. Of course we want all theatres to reopen as soon as possible, but we know that outdoors is a lot safer than indoors.”