Scottish theatres secure climbdown over demand for actors to wear face coverings on stage

Actors are to get a crucial exemption from new physical distancing rules for live entertainment in Scotland after industry leaders branded them "unworkable” and a recipe for “chaos.”

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 7:25 am
Nico Guerzoni, Sam Stopford and Robert Jack in Vanishing Point's show The Metamorphis. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Theatres had warned recovery plans for the troubled would be thrown into turmoil by an insistence from the Scottish Government that face coverings must be worn by on stage or in rehearsal if performers were within one metre of each other or backstage workers.

Leading companies had warned that productions would relocate to England unless there was a rethink of the new rules.

The government was also told that theatre companies faced having to dramatically scale back planned productions or scrap them completely.

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Official guidance published last month stated that performers would only be allowed on stage or in rehearsal rooms without face coverings if they were kept one metre apart from others or if partitions were used.

The government has conceded that exemptions are allowed if one metre distancing is “not possible” for a particular production or performance.

However the government wants any exemptions from wearing face coverings to be “the exception rather than the norm” and has asked venues and companies to consider whether face coverings would “materially impede” a performance or rehearsal.

The government has already had to clarify the rules on wearing face coverings for people attending live music events and nightclubs following confusion over official guidance published after ministers decided to ease distancing rules.

Andy Arnold, artistic director at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, wrote to the government last month highlighting the “huge irony” that nightclubs had finally been allowed to reopen without the need for any distancing restrictions or face coverings in bars or on dance floors, as theatre productions were “put in jeopardy.”

An announcement by the Federation of Scottish Theatre on the government’s rethink, said: “The government is making an amendment to the face covering regulations, to enable performers to perform or rehearse for a performance without face coverings in situations on stage where the wearing of a face covering is not possible, and distancing or partitioning is not possible.”

The new guidance states: “A person who is performing indoors does not need to wear a face covering if there is a partition between that person and other people or if there is at least one metre between that person and other people.

“In response to concerns about the performing arts sector’s ability to resume work, the regulations about face coverings for performers, and people assisting a performance or rehearsal indoors have been changed.

“It’s important the people responsible for the performance or rehearsal work with performers, and those assisting with the performance and rehearsals, or their representatives, on the health and safety aspects of these exemptions.

"Because of the continuing risk of transmitting the virus indoors, these exemptions from wearing face coverings without one-metre distancing or partitioning should be the exception rather than the norm.”

Matthew Lenton, artistic director of Glasgow-based theatre company Vanishing Point, said: “It reflects well on the Scottish Government that they responded so quickly.

“I hope it reflects their belief in the importance of the arts and culture in Scotland not only now, but in the future. It’s been a difficult time, but green shoots are emerging.”Mr Arnold said: "Hopefully we are now back on track.”