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THE PUBLIC SUPPORT REINTRODUCING MANDATORY MASK WEARING & SOCIAL DISTANCING; WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE SOLT?
On September 8, I wrote to Julian Bird — joint CEO of SOLT and UK Theatres, the governing bodies who represent UK’s theatre owners and producers — to express my shock in their lack of action in enforcing mask mandates and vaccination certificates in UK theatres, and on September 10, he replied thus:
“I am aware of your strong feelings on this issue – others have strong opinions too. The legal framework here in the UK is very different to other countries, and we continue to discuss all points of view – we will ensure your views are fed in to the discussions.”
Over 7 weeks later, and still no action has been taken on either of the matters I wrote to him about.
But those “strong opinions” may be shifting. According to a YouGov survey published yesterday, an overwhelming majority would support masking on public transport (81%) and in shops (76%), while a clear majority would also favour the reintroduction of 2 metre social distancing measures (59%), the latter of which would mean theatres could no longer operate at full capacity again — the introduction of which BIrd had hailed at the time as a “lifeline for the industry”.
With some 263 deaths from COVID reported yesterday — the highest since March — the public are understandably getting anxious
And so are theatre producers. Yesterday Playful Productions announced that its RSC production of its stage version of Hilary Mantel’s THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT that opened last month will close on November 28, and not complete its previously announced extension till January 23. According to the press statement announcing this, “”The ever-changing environment creates a level of uncertainty that does not support the risk involved in extending the run beyond its original planned end date.”
Equity UK’s Hilary Hadley responded thus, “It is deeply disappointing for our members to have been given notice that the production will close at the end of November and that they will now be out of work during the Christmas period. It is also disappointing that the producers do not feel sufficiently supported by the government. Currently, there is not an affordable insurance scheme that would give them confidence that they would be covered in the event of possible further disruption of performances due to the pandemic, nor indeed do they have any consistency from the government in terms of Covid prevention measures such as mask wearing.”
This is, of course, the same union that hasn’t mandated compulsory vaccines for actors, which is another Covid prevention measure, but as ever, it seems, SOLT and the unions just want to shift the buck of responsibility for taking proactive preventative measures on government, rather than enforce them themselves.
In a brilliant and chastening blog column published yesterday, @Laughfrodisiac wrote about attending THE NORMAL HEART at the National’s Olivier Theatre recently.
“Whenever people talk about The Normal Heart, they use the phrase ‘searing indictment’. I mean not without good reason – it works, and it sounds good. It’s a ‘searing indictment’ of state and federal governments, of all aspects of the health system that failed to do literally anything to help the sick or help curb the spread. And, of the hindsight granted to us in viewing a community that was stuck between a rock and a hard place — not wanting to ruffle too many feathers in their attempt to get people to care, but doomed to fail unless they did so.
What this production ended up being, however, was an indictment of our present theatre-going community, and, of course, the entities tasked with ensuring our welfare. I am not comparing the situations or the people involved, but it was beyond ironic to see a play about a world-changing pandemic during a world-changing pandemic, and upsettingly so. You don’t want the lessons of Kramer and of AIDS and of incredible words like The Normal Heart to simultaneously be relevant and ignored, yet here we are.”
And as they went on to say, “I think of this experience and I am filled with incomprehensible fury. This audience at the National at a performance on a Saturday night represented the worst showing for maskwearing I’ve seen anywhere since the pandemic began. And I’ve been to America. Twice. I never knew what irony was until I was watching this play about how people weren’t taking a pandemic seriously while surrounded by people not taking a pandemic seriously. Ned yells at his friends when they refuse to entertain the idea of even suggesting to gay men to stop having promiscuous sex for now; they say this is a matter of personal freedom and identity. Guys, that’s just toooo on the nose, isn’t it? Ned says that their personal freedom is endangering HIS life. And a man across the aisle clapped and hooted while coughing openly. I wholeheartedly recognize and approve of Ned’s fury at his fellow man in failing to join him in his, because that’s how it feels being one of the few taking this pandemic seriously. Watching in real time as his righteous indignation, so beautifully and honestly written by Kramer, performed by Daniels, directed by Cooke, fell on such conspicuously deaf ears, it felt like the unavoidable condemnation was on our society now, not then.”
As a New York based director, writer and performer Justin Schwartz tweeted in response when I posted this column,
The decisions of SOLT — or rather their lack of action — is undermining the industry instead of supporting it.
I am returning to New York shortly — on November 9, the day after we are allowed back in — and I am actually looking forward to feeling much safer in Broadway theatres than I currently do in UK theatres, with their wildly inconsistent policies to something as fundamental as keeping their audiences and staff safe.
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS
Theatre Birthdays (OCTOBER 27): Peter Firth, 68 (pic: as the original Alan Strang in EQUUS on Broadway in 1974, opposite Anthony Hopkins); Fran Lebowitz, 71 (pic: with Bette Midler)