What would you rather have: A theatre with a capacity of, say, 500, allowed to seat 50, or a theatre with the same capacity full of patrons who can prove they have been vaccinated? The Covid-19 vaccines don’t eliminate the risk, but they reduce it, significantly.

Let us talk about theatres/live performance venues and vaccines. We need to do this, urgently. On Monday, August 16, 2021, The Theatre and Dance Alliance (TADA), launched its Open Theatres Safely Campaign on Zoom, with the call-out to the live performance industry, to rally together to open theatres ‘safely’. A manual has been compiled and signed off by theatre establishments and operators. To increase awareness, TADA is urging people to share on social media with a selection of hashtags such as #OPENTHEATRESSAFELY.

I was interested to see that no mention was made about vaccines. After the TADA presentation, I sent out a tweet: “Great job to @Splitbeam, #TADA & team for a wonderful presentation. And may I add: #VaccinationDrive so we can mitigate the risk of infection. Not raised. Why not?” @Splitbeam replied: “Yes we agree however it needs to be managed within the law. Currently we cannot stop a non-vaccinated person from entering a public place hopefully this will change in time. We all want to be safe & back in full houses ASAP. Help us spread the word and we will make this happen”.

I am spreading the word and raising vaccines as a way of moving towards full houses for theatre and live performance. As I understand, privately run theatres have Right of Admission laws on their side.  Overseas, more and more privately owned spaces are requiring proof of vaccination before entry is permitted. In London they are already dealing with the vaccination issue, although there is variation in approach- vaccinations required at some venues and not at others. Check out the approaches at https://www.londontheatre.co.uk/. Tom Stoppard’s play, Leopoldstadt, is on at Wyndham’s Theatre. Requirements to attend the performance – include that a mask is required at all times; proof of vaccination or negative Covid test; temperature checks; filling out a health questionnaire.

I am flummoxed by resistance to be vaccinated. We are compelled by law to wear a seat-belt when driving a vehicle or being a passenger. Seat-belts have been shown to mitigate harm from accidents. No seat-belt and you are liable to get a fine. We are not (currently) required by law to be vaccinated against Covid-19. I get that. Any theatre which receives state funding cannot, it appears, require patrons to vaccinate when entering the premises. Noted. For now.  Seems completely arbitrary and capricious – you can’t smoke in or near public buildings.  Rules can be made, we just need enough support for them to be made.  Why not the theatre staff, as a starting point?  Maybe theatres should mandate ALL their staff and their supplier’s staff to get vaccinated.  Put a bit of pressure on them; see what happens. 

Get vaccinated now. If you have a medical issue, that prevents you from being vaccinated; then you cannot be vaxed and that we understand. For the rest: Don’t wait for capacity limits to be changed.  Lead by example.  Get everyone used to it.  I would like to see signs which state: “Your safety at our venue is paramount. Our staff and suppliers have all been vaccinated.  For your safety and ours, we appeal to patrons to please show PoV (Proof of Vaccination) on our health questionnaires.”  Is this some terrible infringement of your human rights, or your rights to privacy?  Or trampling all over your personal freedoms?   No-one forces you to go to the theatre, just as no one forces you to get into a car.  You can just catch a bus, if you really think that being forced to wear a seat-belt infringes your constitutional rights.

To me, it’s our best bet to get control of the pandemic and fast track live performance venues, to operate, safely, at a decent capacity which makes them viable to run. I use the word “bet” deliberately. In many respects Covid-19 is a lottery disease. It tends to flay people with co-morbidities but we all know of healthy people who have got sick and many have died. No one knows how long it will persist. The bottom line: Vaccines have been shown to mitigate infection, illness and reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death. If you get infected, it tends to be milder.

Why can’t we ask people about their vaccine status when entering an independently run venue?  The minute anyone steps out of their home into the public domain, the private becomes public. What about my rights not to sit next to an un-vaccinated person who may well put me at risk? This goes out as an appeal, from TheCapeRobyn. It is an appeal to open up this vital conversation. It is not only about patrons. It is about vaccinating creatives, stage crew and suppliers (food, drinks, posters, etc).  When one person in a company test positive, the show has to invariably be put on ice. From a business point of view, surely, the only sustainable model is to INSIST on PoV.  I beseech all those in the live performance industry to go get vaccinated. I urge venues to put in place strict controls for entry which includes a declaration of vaccine status.  

Open Theatres Safely Campaign: Screenshot, from TADA [The Theatre and Dance Alliance], presentation on Zoom, on Monday, August 16, 2021.

❇ Screenshot from, from TADA [The Theatre and Dance Alliance], Open Theatres Safely Campaign presentation on Zoom, on Monday, August 16, 2021.