8 April 2021

Theatres and cinemas back to full houses, help for live music venues on its way

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Theatre Photo: Michelle Kroll

Canberra Theatre can return to full-house performances after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the ACT. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

In a boost for Canberra’s entertainment industry, cinemas and theatres will be able to return to full capacity under an easing of COVID-19 restrictions announced today (8 April).

While restrictions will remain in force for live music venues, the government says it will be working with individual venues on COVID-safe plans for individual events to provide exemptions so audience limits can be raised.

Large indoor performance venues with forward-facing and tiered seating, such as Canberra Theatre, will be able to stage events up to 100 per cent audience capacity instead of the previous 75 per cent, provided the events are ticketed and seated, and a COVID Safety Plan has been endorsed by the ACT Chief Health Officer.

If venues can have more than one performance at the venue at the same time, the COVID Safety Plan must ensure that start, finish and interval times for these performances are staggered and there is appropriate cleaning, particularly of shared lobby and bathroom spaces.

Gill Hugonnet, Rachel Stephen-Smith and Tara Cheyne

Canberra Theatre Centre head of program and presenter services Gill Hugonnet, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and Arts Minister Tara Cheyne at Canberra Theatre. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Cinemas can now sell tickets for all seats, subject to having a COVID Safety Plan endorsed by the ACT Chief Health Officer.

The changes are another step towards normal trading for a sector that has been hard hit by the pandemic, with cancelled performances and lost revenue.

Canberra Theatre Centre head of program and presenter services Gill Hugonnet said the theatre was excited at the thought of experiencing the thrill of a full house again after negotiating a dark period of cancellations and loss of confidence.

She said Canberra audiences had shown real passion about being in the theatre again and getting back to normal.

READ ALSO COVID-19 vaccination hub to open at Calvary Public at end of month

With 64 productions now on sale, the easing means being able to make more seats available and most performances returning to being financially viable.

“This is a return to sustainability that represents jobs,” Ms Hugonnet said. “It also brings confidence to the touring circuit.”

Although the risk remained of a tightening of restrictions and further shutdowns, she said experience had shown that these were manageable.

“We see that they are effective and business gets back to normal as quickly as it can,” she said. “We’re working with it, we know the risk is out there but we have to keep looking forward.”

For live music venues, the COVID Safe Event Protocol will be updated to provide advice on how to safely host events, and to seek an exemption for larger audiences.

Arts Minister Tara Cheyne said both Access Canberra and ACT Health were working with live-music venues on a case-by-case basis to evaluate whether they could be exempted from restriction to admit larger crowds to individual events.

For example, the farewell gig for popular Canberra band Tonk at The Basement in Belconnen this Saturday will now be able to hold 350 patrons instead of the previous 195 after talking with the agencies.

Ms Cheyne encouraged organisers and promoters to work with the agencies to see what was possible to increase capacity in live music venues.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said she did not expect further easing of restrictions for some time.

She also attempted to allay any fears about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to fatal blood clots in rare instances.

“These adverse events, now they have been confirmed to be associated with the vaccine, are extraordinarily rare,” she said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

The government would follow whatever the advice is of the health experts who were evaluating the AstraZeneca news from Europe.

She said more than 15,000 vaccine doses had now been administered in the ACT.

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