‘Pingdemic’ could bring down final curtain, warns UK theater industry

‘Debilitating’ self-isolation rules could bring down the final curtain on a theater industry already estimated to have lost more than £ 200million during the pandemic, producers have warned.

In theory, theaters in England are now able to operate at full capacity, with all other legal limits on social contact removed, for the first time in 16 months.

Reality is a wave of canceled performances, from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West End Cinderella community productions, after a cast or crew member received the dreaded ‘ping’ from the NHS Covid-19 app advising them to go through a period of self-isolation after coming into close contact with a case positive.

“I don’t think any of us thought that eventually on ‘Freedom Day’ the next fight to survive would begin,” said James Graham, Oliver’s award-winning playwright behind. Quiz, who fears the theater is now “falling apart.”

“It’s chaos,” Lolita Chakrabarti, the actress set to star in Kenneth Branagh’s cover of The brown version, until Riverside Studios’ production becomes the last to be cut due to Covid-imposed absences, said I.

“We followed all protocols, we were left behind all the time and tested daily. But once we had two people testing positive at different times during rehearsals, the strangers made it very difficult, ”Ms. Chakrabarti said.

“The impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument of government guidance on isolation mean we cannot continue,” complained Lord Lloyd Webber, who canceled CinderellaThe opening week after only one actor with a cameo role tested positive, despite all others testing negative.

Rodney Vubya, a rising actor who is reprising the role of Prince Charming in the ensemble, said he was heartbroken to learn the news just hours before he arrived on stage.

Self-isolation cancellations are spreading throughout the West End. Musical comedy Hair spray, already knocked out for ten nights, had to extend his absence for another five days. The prince of Egypt and Wonderville closed their doors after a positive test.

The regional theater, clinging to the pandemic thanks to the lifeline of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, saw “Freedom Day” be torn from it.

A Alice in Wonderland staged by Stockroom in a ‘Covid-friendly’ Manchester pop-up open-air theater, has been canceled ahead of its launch this week.

Glasgow’s Citizens Theater open-air production The comedy of mistakes, her first live show since the lockdown, canceled in its first week after members of society tested positive during rehearsals.

For venues, coping with performances of 50% of their capacity during lockdown when they’ve been allowed to open, only regular sold-out shows can begin to fill the gaping hole in their finances.

The producers want the ministers to bring forward the date of August 16 for the lifting of the obligation of self-isolation following a ping, for those who have been fully vaccinated.

Covid passes for entry to the theater are not seen as a practical solution, but the public must wear masks inside most auditoriums.

Some may still not feel comfortable sitting in a full house, so the Chichester Festival Theater will continue to offer social distancing shows on a weekly basis this summer.

Leading West End producer Sonia Friedman said “the number one hurdle” the industry faces is lack of access to insurance for coronavirus-related disruptions.

She said: “We were told we could reopen completely but we are in the middle of a pandemic and so what we need from the government is to sort out the self-isolation rules, to speed this up. , to move this forward for our sector. We just reel from day to day, from crisis to crisis. “

The Society of London Theater (SOLT) and UK theater organizations have warned that without a government-backed insurance scheme, the theater sector will operate up to 50% below 2019 levels, with an indirect effect of £ 850 million to local economies, especially in central cities.

“The theater is now on its knees. There is no way forward, ”concluded Lord Lloyd Webber with typically dramatic flourish.

The UK theater industry said in a joint statement: “With an estimated workforce of 200,000 people, 55% of whom are employed outside London and the South East, the impact of this lack of activity on our workforce and our ability to sustain the government’s “race to the top” agenda cannot be underestimated. “

Eleanor Lloyd, President of SOLT, said: “Producers want to get our industry back on its feet, create jobs and entertain the public across the country – but we are doing it under debilitating self-isolation rules and still without the cancellation insurance protection. It is not a sustainable situation.

Lolita Chakrabarti

Actress and writer Lolita Chakrabarti hopes to avoid ping

A few days before the opening of his new room Anthem at the Almeida theater, playwright and actress Lolita Chakrabarti prays that her phone will not ring.

“We follow all the protocols, respect the distances, wear masks, we wash our hands and have our temperature tested,” she says. I. “It feels like a lot of tightrope walking. Is luck on our side or not?

Anthem, a two-handed game, was first written and performed by Chakrabarti’s husband Adrian Lester and friend Danny Sapani, live during the lockdown.

“Even though we were careful, we both had Covid. I was moderately ill but called it ‘Convenience Covid’ as it was during a two week break. “

The protocols required careful choreography during the performances. “They were standing two meters apart and they couldn’t touch the same prop, otherwise they were holding different parts of a cup. From now on, the restrictions are relaxed, the actors are granted greater proximity. “

After seeing her return to the stage in Kenneth Branagh’s film The brown version Torn off because of an illness of the actors, Ms. Chakrabarti aspires to the common experience of a live performance.

“The theater is an audience seated in the same room as the actors on stage. A live broadcast cannot replace this. We did it with social distancing when we had to. The theater will survive and reinvent itself.

Hymn is at the Almeida Theater from July 26 to August 13

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About Nancy Owens

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