By Lina Saigol
Reopening theaters in Britain will remain “immensely challenging” as long as social-distancing rules remain in place, according to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
Dowden said at the daily government briefing that over the next week he would bring together leading performers from theater, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisers to look at “innovative ideas” to permit socially distanced live performances.
But he warned that even a one-meter rule, half the current social-distancing recommendation, wouldn’t be enough to allow theaters, with their “wafer-thin” profit margins, to operate in a way that was financially viable.
His announcement came as producer Cameron Mackintosh said that he had taken the “heartbreaking” decision to delay the return of four of London’s most popular stage musicals — “Les Misérables,” “Mary Poppins,” “Hamilton” and “The Phantom of the Opera” — until as “early as practical in 2021.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Mackintosh and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres said they had decided in response to the continued uncertainty over when the government is going to completely withdraw social-distancing measures and allow the safe return of theater productions.
“Despite the government engaging with the desperate pleas from everyone in the theater industry, so far there has been no tangible practical support beyond offers to go into debt, which I don’t want to do,” Mackintosh said. “I have no investors or venture capital backing, everything is funded by me personally and already my companies’ considerable reserves have been massively reduced by the complete closure of our industry everywhere.”
He said a consultation process over potential redundancies for all employees on these productions has started.
Britain is facing an irreversible “cultural catastrophe,” with the U.K.’s creative industries projected to lose £74 billion ($94 billion) in revenue in 2020, or £1.4 billion a week, according to a new report published Wednesday.
The Creative Industries Federation commissioned the global forecaster Oxford Economics to examine the potential economic impact from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and found that 406,000 jobs across industries including music, theater, film, TV, fashion, publishing, architecture and museums could be lost.
That’s more than nine times the entire workforce of airline British Airways, which is owned by IAG /zigman2/quotes/208070069/delayed UK:IAG +4.42% , or almost triple the workforce of British supermarket chain Asda, which is owned by Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT +2.02% , in the U.K.
The U.K.’s creative sector was previously growing at five times the rate of the wider economy, employing more than 2 million people and contributing £111.7 billion to the economy — more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and oil and gas industries combined, the report found.
“With the economic impact of COVID-19 hitting hard, the role of our creative industries has never been more critical. As well as being a huge driver of economic growth in every part of the U.K., our creative and cultural sectors bring communities together; they employ millions and are at the heart of our soft power,” Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation, said.
She called for a “Cultural Renewal Fund” for those in the creative sector who will be hit hardest, including in those industries that will be latest to return to work, those unable to operate fully while maintaining social distancing and those creative professionals who continue to fall through the gaps of government support measures.
“We must also avoid a cliff-edge on vital measures such as the Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme, which have been a financial lifeline for many parts of the creative industries and cannot be cut off overnight,” Norbury added.