Urgent Call to Scottish Government from Group of Scottish Arts Venues

Now that Scotland has a newly returned government, a collective call has been made to them by eleven of the country’s leading arts venues, going under the umbrella of the Scottish Theatre Producing Consortium, along with the Federation of Scottish Theatre, with an important message. The message is that the Scottish Government urgently reviews the social distancing requirements required in their venues as Coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased. Without a change to the guidance, significantly more public sector finance will be required to protect an already deeply damaged sector.

With the furlough scheme ending in September and many freelancers across the sector still excluded from support and desperate for work, as well as audiences indicating they are confident and keen to return, action is urgently needed to enable venues to play their role in the recovery of the economy and the nation’s wellbeing.

The current 2m+ requirement makes presenting and producing work financially unviable in almost all contexts. In a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Scottish Theatre, 96% of members responded that it is not economically viable for them to reopen while that level of social distancing is required.

The continued uncertainty in the sector that has no clear route-map of when social distancing requirements might be eased is having a significantly negative impact on the ability for venues to plan. This affects 120 organisations across Scotland who employ thousands of people, support and supply chain businesses and enrich communities across the entire nation.

Many of Scotland’s theatres are reliant on touring productions that move across the United Kingdom. The continued uncertainty and lack of clarity in Scotland,  is resulting in increased nervousness and unwillingness of producers booking their productions and concerts into Scotland’s venues, particularly while their options are much more secure South of the border.

In England from 17 May, theatres can open at 50% capacity with a plan for them to return to full capacity from 21 June so Scotland’s performing arts venues urgently need the clarity of a route-map so they can plan accordingly.

Guidance for performing arts venues is significantly more restrictive than that in the hospitality sector and in film and television production. The consortium is of the view that performing arts venues can re-open safely and guidance for our sector should be brought in line with other leisure-time industries.

If the Scottish Government genuinely feel the sector needs to remain closed, additional emergency funding will be required to support the performing arts sector through a prolonged recovery.

James Mackenzie-Blackman, Chief Executive of Eden Court Highlands & Chair of the Scottish Touring Theatre Consortium said, “The Scottish Government has a proven track-record of understanding the value that the arts and culture bring to communities the length-and-breadth of our country.

The consortium is grateful for the intervention of the Cabinet Secretary, and for the reassurance from the First Minister that culture will play a critical role in the nation’s COVID recovery, but that will only be possible if we are able to plan for the months ahead.

We are a creative and professional sector, confident that we can safely return audiences to our venues. We urge the government to recognise that the current guidance on social distancing makes a meaningful re-start of the sector almost impossible and to engage fully with the sector to address this.”

The Scottish Theatre Producing Consortium is made up of the following nationwide venues: Aberdeen Performing Arts (His Majesty’s Theatre, The Music Hall and The Lemon Tree); Eden Court Highlands; Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre; Pitlochry Festival Theatre; Horsecross Arts (Perth Theatre & Concert Hall); Macrobert Arts Centre; Capital Theatres (The Festival Theatre, The King’s Theatre and The Studio); Traverse Theatre; Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh; The Tron and Citizens Theatre.

All Consortium members are also part of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, Scotland’s membership and development body for professional dance, opera and theatre.

The below table gives an illustration of how current guidance impacts venue capacity across Scotland:

VenueNormal CapacityRestricted Capacity at 2m+Restricted Capacity at 1m
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh1,915401 (21%)873 (46%)
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen1,073193 (17%)397 (37%)
Perth Concert Hall1,200195 (16%)353 (30%)
Empire Theatre, Eden Court Highlands869148 (17%)321 (36%)
Macrobert Arts Centre, Sterling47892 (19%)186 (39%)
Dundee Rep Theatre45580 (18%)110 (24%)
Tron Theatre, Glasgow23614 (6%)60 (25%)

Irene Brown

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