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How Can We Work Towards a Safe Reopening

In this blog, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge discusses the work the MU is doing towards safely opening up areas of the live performance sector.

Published: 15 October 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:31 PM
Photograph of a crowded audience watching the stage.
“The talk was centred on how we can introduce mitigation to enable the current two-metre social distancing rules to be safely reduced.” Photo credit: Shutterstock

Back to back Zoom, Teams and Google Hangout meetings seem to be the new norm for MU officials. My hours have stretched at either end of the day as I struggle to shoehorn meetings into the schedule. Nevertheless, we at the MU all recognise that we are extremely lucky to be able to work.

As part of our work towards safely opening up areas of the live performance sector, I am involved in several DCMS working groups and last week I attended the DCMS Venues Steering Group meeting with many other representatives from all areas of the live performance sector.

Live music was heavily represented at the meeting but there were also representatives from the comedy circuit and theatre sectors present and all the talk was centred on how we can introduce mitigation to enable the current two-metre social distancing rules to be safely reduced.

This is a complex area as it has to account for not just performers and audiences but also backstage, front of house and any other areas where people may need to congregate.

Safety measures must be advised on

Also present at these meetings are representatives of Public Health England (PHE) who are there to advise on what they believe to be the correct measures to ensure the safety of all.

A chilling aspect of the results of reducing the social distancing measures and thereby increasing the audience size is that – in the absence of mitigation – doubling the audience size effectively quadruples the risk factor. This is because you not only double the possibility/likelihood of an audience member carrying the infection, you also double the number of people who can become infected by that person.

Nevertheless, we all know that unless and until we can find mitigating measures that enable more performers to perform, and larger audiences to attend, the live performance of music will be extremely limited and in almost all cases economically unviable.

Possible mitigations for performers and audiences

In respect of performers, it should be possible to reduce the social distancing measures to 1m or 1m plus where mitigations are put in place and evidenced. Those mitigations could include screens and/or masks - for performers who can wear them - and for the performers to remain in fixed positions side to side or back to back. Test and trace should also be used.

In respect of audiences, work is underway to establish whether ventilation systems can significantly reduce the aerosol effect (which is the key concern in enclosed spaces) and there are separate working groups developing advice and guidance on ventilation systems.

We are currently stuck at Stage Four of the Government’s roadmap to bring live performance back safely. Whilst accepting that Stage Five is still some way off we must strive to move from the current Stage Four restrictions in the direction of Stage Five as quickly and safely as we can to enable more economically viable live performances to take place.

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