Outdoor Entertainment Returns to UK This Weekend

July 10, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson

As governments and businesses across the U.S. continue to struggle with the question of when and how to resume outdoor sports and entertainment events, the United Kingdom is moving ahead with plans to restart this segment of its economy.

If these efforts are successful, they could provide a roadmap for a similar resumption of these activities on this side of the Atlantic.

In a briefing with reporters on Thursday, Oliver Dowden, the secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports in the U.K., said that as of this weekend, “artists, musicians and dancers can start performing live outside to audiences. We’ll also have the resumption of recreational sport, followed later by the reopening of our gyms, swimming pools and leisure centers.”

“This is an important milestone for our performing artists, who have been waiting patiently in the wings since March, “ Dowden said. “Of course, we won’t see crowds flooding into their venues. But from July 11, our theatres, operas, dance and music shows can start putting on outdoor performances to socially distanced audiences.” 

The U.K.’s announcement of outdoor activity is part of its five-stage plan for the nation’s theatre sector to make a “phased return” to business. The outdoor performances mark the third stage of the plan.

In addition to having outdoor performances, Dowden disclosed the U.K. government is piloting studies of how indoor performances can be conducted in accordance with social distancing, as well as studies of specific health concerns such as the transmission of water droplets from singers and musicians.

“The more we know about coronavirus in every setting, the safer we will be,” Dowden said.

The outdoor performance announcement comes on the heels of a near $2 billion support package given to the financially floundering U.K. arts sector. 

According to U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the arts sector package is intended to “.. .help cultural, arts and heritage institutions weather the impact of coronavirus.” 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson highlighted the importance of the arts sector package by explaining that, “This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the U.K. can stay afloat and support their staff while their doors remain closed.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, over 350,000 people, or about 50%,  in the arts sector have been furloughed. 

Philippa Childs, head of the entertainment union BECTU, said that “The terms of these grants and loans must recognize that there is still a long journey to recovery for theaters and live events and this package is the first cautious step towards reviving the sector.” 

Childs continued by saying, “While this support was necessary, the government also needs to think again on support for the forgotten freelancers. They have fallen through the gaps in government support, and it is a scandal that they have been ignored by the government so far.” 

The call for supporting the “forgotten freelancers” has been answered in a collaboration between Oscar-winning directors Sam Mendes and Steven Spielberg, Scottish director Armando Iannucci, and streaming giant Netflix, who jointly created the Theatre Artists Fund.

According to the Theatre Artists Fund website, the fund, “has been set up to provide emergency support for theatre workers and freelancers across the U.K. It is for theatre professionals who are in need of urgent and critical financial support due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the theatre sector.” 

The Theatre Artists Fund provides qualifying artists and freelancers £1,000 (or $1,250) as an emergency grant. 

In speaking out about why he helped initiate the fund, Sam Mendes stated, “Thousands of theatre professionals in the U.K. are struggling. Many of them haven’t been able to get help from existing government schemes, and the situation continues to worsen. They need help now.” 

“We have seen in recent weeks how our landlords, waiters and shop assistants have welcomed customers back with open arms, while doing so much to keep their communities safe. It’s time to give other businesses those same opportunities, “ said Dowden. 

“I’m urging the British people to make the most of this summer safely. We need them to support the places that we all love,” he added.

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