Scottish comedy industry warns it is on the brink of collapse over strict 'reopening' rules

The Scottish comedy world has warned the industry has been left on the brink of collapse by Scottish Government guidelines which mean clubs cannot reopen unless they enforce two metre social distancing on audiences.

By Brian Ferguson
Sunday, 16th May 2021, 2:44 pm
Updated Sunday, 16th May 2021, 11:48 pm

Leading promoters, venues and performers have sent an open letter to the Scottish Government warning the fate of the "entire industry" is hanging in the balance over the controversial curb.

The restriction will apply to all live entertainment venues in Scotland for the foreseeable future, while venues in England can open from today at half their normal capacity, and bars and restaurants north of the border can operate at 1m distancing.

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    The open letter said 85 per cent of Scotland's venues faced permanent closure unless restrictions were eased to allow them to reopen or they received emergency financial support.

    It states: “With venues in England reopening with a social distance of 50 per cent capacity, the entire Scottish comedy industry hangs in the balance of being able survive the proposed continued restrictions.

    "The proposed distancing measures makes it financially unviable for the majority of clubs to reopen. This continued closure will mean many will continue to struggle to survive.

    "The need for the guidance to be reviewed requires urgent attention in order for Scotland’s vibrant and important comedy industry to survive.”

    Katy and Karen Koren run the Gilded Balloon, one of the best-known venue operators at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

    Mike Jones, managing director of The Stand Comedy Club, said: “I’ve become quite angry at disingenuous, feel-good headline statements that venues will be reopening when the truth of what might actually be allowed is hidden in the small print.

    “At 2m social distancing, most live performance venues will not be able to open as its simply not economically viable.

    "I can get 12 people into our 160-capacity Edinburgh venue, despite the government declaring that events up to 100 capacity can take place.

    “In Newcastle, with the 1m distancing requirement in England, we’ll be opening on May 24 with 94 people in the room.”

    Stand-up Mark Nelson has led the Scottish comedy industry's criticism of the Scottish Government. Picture: Michael Gillen

    "Even that is on the cusp of real terms financial viability, but at least we’ll be able to get back to doing a compromised version of what we do.”

    Katy Koren, joint artistic director of promoters and producers Gilded Balloon, said: “It's heart-breaking to see other sectors such as hospitality being able to reopen and rebuild, whilst the comedy and cultural industries feel almost forgotten.

    "I really hope we see a review of these restrictions that better reflects our industry and allows us to run shows safely again soon."

    Mark Nelson has hosted The Stand Comedy Club's online shows since over the last year.

    Award-winning Scottish comic Mark Nelson, host of The Stand, said: "The 2m rule makes it almost impossible for comedy to operate for both clubs and performers.

    "The fact that neither English clubs nor Scottish hospitality have to adhere to it, shows the bias against the arts in Scotland.”

    A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We do not underestimate the severe impact this pandemic has had on the performing arts.

    "We want the sector to be able to reopen fully and plan future activity with confidence, but we must continue to move very carefully to ensure continued suppression of Covid-19.

    “In order to support cultural organisations as they continue to deal with the impact of restrictions, we will ask Creative Scotland to run a second round of the Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund and the Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund.”

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