Indoor theatre, music and performance venues are now able to reopen in England with socially distanced audiences.
Playhouse manager Jo Potts said: “It is good news that the delay to the Government schedule has been lifted and allowed venues to pilot socially-distanced performances.
"We will observe the results and continue with our plans for the safe re-opening later in the year along with other Northumberland venues.
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The venue reopened in January following a £3.3m refurbishment only to have to close its doors in mid-March.
“We are using this interval constructively to address variations to the original works which will take different areas including the main auditorium out of use which would have been impossible to plan around the busy Playhouse programme,” revealed Jo.
It is working on its reopening plans in conjunction with three other Northumberland venues: The Maltings in Berwick, Queen Hall Arts in Hexham and The Phoenix at Blyth.
“Last Tuesday we joined venues across Northumberland and the UK by lighting our theatre in red to highlight the ongoing challenges of the pandemic on our industry since closing our doors,” said Jo. “We are proud to support other venues, staff and freelancers who make the live events we love happen.”
The four venues intend to monitor the pilot scheme with great interest to learn how successful social distancing trials can be implemented.
They acknowledge there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for social distancing in a theatre; a lot depends on the physical layout of the building, such as how wide and how many entrances, exits, staircases and toilets the building has but all the venues agree that it is a move in the right direction.
The venues will remain closed in the summer season, historically a quiet time for the industry.
In a joint announcement, they stated: ‘Daily headlines about theatres facing closure with huge staff redundancies have been common in the recent news.
‘However the Northumberland venues are confident about getting through this crisis without staffing casualties.
‘The success is mainly due to the fact that all these venues operate with huge community support and a small, dedicated, core staff team performing multiple roles, working alongside an incredible group of volunteers.
‘In normal circumstances this model of operation can be tough and limit capacity on delivery of activities however during the current crisis, this model of operation has helped to secure their survival and coming back.
‘Venues have also been able to take advantage of the government furlough scheme designed to safeguard jobs which runs until the end of October. Despite operating on a reduced team working from home, they have continued to connect with their local communities online.
‘Covid-19 is having a huge impact on the theatre industry with most of the autumn’s touring dance, theatre and music productions already being cancelled or transferred to next year.
‘This is the reason the Northumberland venues are planning together a special Christmas project for audiences to reflect on the challenges of the past year and celebrate looking forward to the next.’