Campaign for Open Air Performances to spearhead UK's cultural revival
The Coalition for Open Air Theatre and Out To Perform have joined forces to persuade the government to prioritise the early opening of the covid-safest part of the performing arts: the small-scale outdoor performing sector, which we believe presents the opportunity to spearhead the cultural revival in 2021.
We've built a coalition of 70 signatories, representing the breadth of the sector from small-scale touring organisations to the largest production companies in the UK, to make sure the government recognises outdoor performing as being all-year-round not just a summer activity.
Read our open letter to Secretary of State Oliver Dowden below.
Read Our Response to the Government's Roadmap
Out to Perform welcomes the Westminster government publishing a detailed roadmap that brings a degree of certainty to the sector. We were also pleased that the Prime Minister stated that, in line with the science, the government would also prioritise outdoor activity.
However, we were disappointed that live performances outdoors will remain illegal until the same date as the indoor sector (May 17th) and with the same restrictions on % capacity. This appears to contradict the government's own scientific advice.
In treating the performing arts as one Covid-homogenous sector, and not separating out what's outdoor from indoors, it gives the appearance of being driven by dates not data: the opposite of the government's current messaging.
By reopening theme parks, zoos and other outdoor perambulatory recreational activities with similar or higher risks of Covid than outdoor music and theatre, as well as outdoor hospitality, there is an inconsistency at odds with the government's otherwise logical approach. e.g. for it to be legal to have a beer garden full of people eating and drinking, but illegal for a guitarist to play them a song, or an actor recite a poem.
In its refining of the plan over the coming weeks, we urge the government to consider the great potential for deploying the controlled outdoor performance sector (ie. fixed seating, small scale) for opening in Step 2 on April 12th. It would bring the national uplift that culture brings, as well as support jobs prior to the reopening of the indoor sector.
We are asking the government for urgent clarification on the reasons why outdoor is being treated identically to indoor entertainment, despite the risk differential being estimated as high as 19:1 in some studies.
Oliver Dowden CBE,
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament St, London SW1A 2BQ
12th February 2021
Kickstarting a cultural revival with the early opening of the outdoor performing arts sector
Dear Secretary of State,
We are pleased that, over the past year, the government’s policies followed the evidence that “outdoors” is an inherently Covid-safer environment for the performing arts due to the rapid dispersal of aerosols.
Your decisions allowed live outdoor performance to restart last year on 11th July, following the Coalition for Open Air Theatre’s recommendations. The impact of this was an estimated 500,000 people were able to experience the joy of attending small-scale live performances last year, generating c. £7m in revenue and supporting creative and hospitality jobs in every part of the UK. Your policies also enabled outdoor carol singing to take place after 2ndDecember following Out To Perform’s Save Carol Singing campaign. This gave an estimated 100,000 people the pleasure of singing together safely for the first time since March.
As you continue to manage the difficult balance of unlocking of the economy with public health concerns, we urge the government to lead the national cultural revival by allowing the segment of the performing arts with the lowest Covid risks to reopen as soon as lockdown ends: small-scale outdoor music/drama/dance.
Whilst the media narrative focuses on the big-ticket outdoor summer festivals, which are unlikely to operate this year due to their scale, perambulatory style and long lead-times, we believe that focusing on smaller scale and more local outdoor events can more than fill their place, kickstarting the cultural renaissance of the UK. We believe this would:
• be an economically-valuable and mentally-uplifting element of the British 2021 staycation
• be an international showcase for how life can get back to normal quickly, in advance of the G7 summit;
• help sustain the workforce, build audiences and cultural momentum in the lead up to indoor entertainment’s re-opening later in 2021 and FestivalUK*2022.
However, “outdoors” doesn’t just mean summer. Case studies from Out To Perform, The Minack Theatre and data from Indigo Audience research shows that people are more prepared to attend outdoor performances in all seasons and weather than in previous years due to cultural starvation. There is thus an opportunity here to be grasped.
The signatories to this letter have amassed vast experience in being able to apply rigorous Covid-prevention protocols, and urge the government to kickstart the safe return of the performing arts sector straight after lockdown ends, with events that are:
1. Outdoors: where the air is Covid-safer
2. Local: where audiences will, initially, be primarily from the local area
3. Smaller-scale: under c.500 people
4. Controlled seated: where social distancing can be easily managed between bubbles
We believe that this is the best way for the nation to enjoy the uplift that only live entertainment can bring at the earliest opportunity, as well as supporting jobs in the creative sector.
The co-signatories to this letter show the breadth of appeal of these arguments: from <£100k turnover small-scale touring companies to >£100m National Portfolio Organisations, and who have amassed vast experience in running safe outdoor events during the pandemic. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your department to discuss the practical steps necessary to reopen small scale, local outdoor performance this Spring.
Out To Perform
Stuart Barr, Founder/CEO, Out To Perform
The Coalition for Open Air Theatre
Adam Nichols, Artistic Director, OVO and The Maltings Theatre, St Albans
Zoë Curnow, Executive Director, The Minack Theatre, Cornwall
and 70 other names, see below...
We have a small plea.... Out To Perform has a vision for uplifting the nation through expanding the amount of outdoor performances in 2021, We already changed the national narrative before Christmas by helping to make carol singing outdoors legal again in December, resulting in c.100,000 singing together safely for the first time in 9 months. We have more campaigns that we'll be announcing in the next few weeks – seeking to help get the sector back on its feet earlier than if we just focused on indoor venues. To do this, we need your help though! Please donate to help us achieve all this. By doing so, we can't give you much glory, but we can give you the warm feeling that when you think "what did I do during the pandemic?" you gave a little money to help others unlock the joy of millions of people, and help generate work for our sector. Thank you!
Co-signatories of the letter
Ali Robertson, Producer, Aakash Odedra Company, Living Spit and Opposable Thumb
Antony Stuart-Hicks, Producer, APL
Mehmet Ergen, Artistic Director, Arcola Theatre
JoJo Pickering, Director, Bash Street Theatre
Simon Pullen, Director, Bash Street Theatre
Neal Foster, Director, Birmingham Stage Company
Chris Hawley, Artistic Director, Black Box Theatre Company
Will Mytum, General Manager, Brighton Open Air Theatre
Joe Hancock, Artistic Director, Burn the Curtain
John-Webb Carter, Producer, Carter Dixon Productions
Rob Forknall, Artistic Director, Changeling Theatre
John Savournin, Artistic Director, Charles Court Opera
Anthony Richards, Director, Common Players
Erica Love , Director , Culture Central
Trevor MacFarlane, Culture Commons
Olivia Pay, Director of Comms and Broadcast, English National Opera
Annilese Miskimmon, Artistic Director, English National Opera
Estelle van Warmelo, Artistic Director, Feral Productions
Stevie Thompson, Director, Flibbertigibbet Theatre
Matt Pinches, Co-Founder and Producer, Guildford Shakespeare Company
MJ Morgan, Producer, Ha Ha Films Ltd
Ben Kernow, Director, Ha-Hum-Ah Theatre
David Conway, Chairman, Hampstead Garden Opera
Stephen Badham, Company Producer, Illyria Theatre Limited
Oliver Gray, Artistic Director, Illyria Theatre Limited
Michelle Cawardine-Palmer, Executive Director, Kneehigh
Becky Owen-Fisher, Producer, Lamphouse Theatre
Jon Marshall, Director, Magic Carpet Theatre
Emma Gibson, Communications Director, Miracle Theatre
Louise Richards, Executive Director, Motionhouse
Joanna Rosenfeld, Co-producer/ co-director, One Fell Swoop Unlocked Outdoor Shakespeare Festival
James Clutton, Chief Executive and Director of Opera, Opera Holland Park
Philip Parr, Artistic Director, Parrabbola
Piers Cottee-Jones , Founder, PCJ Productions
Dave Hunter, Event Manager, Penlee Park Open Air Theatre
Stefan Escreet, Artistic Director, Ragged Edge Productions
Ollie Oakenshield, Director, Rogue Theatre
Angelina Boscarelli, Director, Rogue Theatre
Oliver Mears, Director of Opera, Royal Opera House
Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director, Royal Shakespeare Company
Gregory Doran, Artistic Director, Royal Shakespeare Company
Catherine Mallyon, Executive Director, Royal Shakespeare Company
Alex Reedijk, General Director, Scottish Opera
Neil Constable, Chief Executive, Shakespeare's Globe
Jessica Cheetham , Director, Spun Glass Theatre
Peter Woodward, Centre Director, Sterts Theatre
Daisy Louise Plackett, Director, Strange Fascination Theatre
Simon Michael-Morgan, Director, Strange Fascination Theatre
Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director, Tête à Tête
Evelyn Roberts, Managing Director, The GOAT Mcr
Paul Moss , Producer , The HandleBards
Mark Hayward, Producer/Co-Artistic Director, The Pantaloons
Alex Gomar, Director, The Place, Bedford
Richard Wolfenden-Brown, Director, The Plough Arts Centre
Pete Talbot, Artistic Director, The Rude Mechanical Theatre Co
Lindy O'Hare, Founder, The Thorington Theatre
Guy Watson, Amphitheatre & Events Coordinator, Trebah Garden
Guy Withers, Artistic Director & CEO, Waterperry Opera Festival
Rosalind Johnson, Director, Wells Theatre Festival
Nigel Godfrey, Director , West End in Schools
Myriddin Pharo , Artistic Director, Wildworks
Emma Hogg , Executive Director, Wildworks
Katie Wilmore, Producer, Willow Walk Productions
Gary Mcelligott, After Dark PR,
Emma Cameron, Freelance Producer
Anna Fleischle, Production Designer
Timothy Sheader, Director
David Pugh, Producer
Freelancers Make Theatre Work
Quotes from companies that co-signed the letter.
“We created outdoor site-specific promenade-style immersive works attracting 26,000 audience in 2020, and ran shows across all seasons right up until Christmas, employing 16 people.”
“Our sold-out Christmas season certainly adds weight to the claim that audiences are willing to attend outdoor performance at any time of year (over 5,500 people across 2.5 weeks in December)”
“Last year, 41,000 people watched our open-air shows July-December, generating £650k in revenue and supporting 25 year-round and 40 seasonal jobs on site.”
“In 2020 we held 22 open-air shows with 2,500 audience. The enjoyment of audiences was palpable. Some people were moved to tears just to be part of an audience and to hear applause. In 2019 we welcomed 5,727 people to 35 open air theatre performances. This year I’ve booked 45 performances at 15 National Trust/other venues and anticipate strong demand for tickets. There is pent-up demand for culture and outdoors is the safest option. We also plan open-air music events at a farm-theme venue. Such Venues appreciate the value of promoting open air shows, which support employment at their venue.”
“We imagine catering to audiences of 150-250 for 35 performances in June, July and August, in a project that will support 6 full-time employees for 10 weeks each.”
“We’re planning a month-long tour of Blithe Spirit this summer and hope to have local audiences in excess of 1500 attend over 14 performances. There’s undeniable demand from audiences, so although it's unlikely theatres will be fully open this year, I think the opportunity to perform outdoors is essential, especially for smaller local companies.”
“Our recent audience survey said over 90% were willing to attend outdoor performances this summer. Our 2020 cancelled season would have employed over 500 people across a 4-month period.”
“93% audience survey overwhelmingly supportive of outdoor 2021 shows. We already have a few summer 2021 shows on sale and the bookings are encouraging.”
“Last year we managed to organise a small scale covid secure tour to several venues around Norfolk, with a cap on audience numbers, masked covid marshals ensuring social distancing and extensive signage and online information. It was due to the organised easing of restrictions that enabled us to do it, as well as a necessity to survive. However, this time round the situation seems far more desperate, disorganised and uncertain.”
“It would be helpful to add being given sufficient time to plan; requesting that DCMS understands that we can’t just turn the lights on and open a show. If it is possible to be given as much notice as possible that would greatly assist the sector in returning safely and thoroughly. For example, if assurance could be given in March/April that activities could go ahead from 01 June, this would give us sufficient time to prepare. Secondly, it would be great if local councils were give more guidance to remove grey areas. Last year, our council restricted TENs licences to 30 people inc. performers, but other councils didn’t restrict like this.”