Would vaccine passports work for theatres?

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds recently celebrated its 200th anniversary

Is a vaccine passport really the only way to fill our theatres again? - Credit: Archant

There are fears vaccines passports for the entertainment industry could drive audiences away rather from our Suffolk theatres rather than providing reassurance.

Theatres are not expected to fully re-open until the end of June but the cabinet office has been canvassing opinion from select organisations about the idea of vaccine passports providing a safe environment to allow theatres and concert halls to fully re-open, with similar ideas suggested for pubs and clubs.

Chris Green conducts the Trianon group Picture: GEOFF ROGERS

Professor Chris Green was one of the few people approached to respond to the idea of vaccine passports for theatres and concert halls - Credit: Archant

Professor Chris Green, chairman of both Ipswich Arts Association and music group Trianon, was one of the few people in Suffolk to receive the consultation document on the evening of Friday, March 26 and was distressed to discover that his response on behalf of the organisations had to be with the cabinet office by 9am the following Monday.

“You have to wonder how extensively they have consulted and how they thought that three days, over a weekend, was long enough to put together a well-considered response, particularly one which, in theory, was going to influence government action.”

Responding on behalf of Trianon, Prof Green wrote: “It would be impossible for organisers of performance events - especially in the non-professional area - to enforce. The situation would be even greater for "free" events. The impact is likely to be negatively greater than having events where there is social distancing.

“It would place an unreasonable burden upon the volunteer sector who staff many of these events. All the certification would do is to tell the people staffing the venue that attendees with valid certification are less likely to die from COVID - which is probably why they are attending.”

He also questioned the privacy issues surrounding the nature of the questions asked and the storage of the information.

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Surprisingly professional theatres in Suffolk and Essex were not contacted for their input by the government, despite receiving grants from the Arts Council to help them weather the Covid storm.

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre, who has severe reservations about vaccine passports for theatres

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre, who has severe reservations about vaccine passports for theatres - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich thought that any proposed vaccine passport would be problematical.

Sarah Holmes, chief executive for the New Wolsey, said: “The New Wolsey theatre has serious misgivings about the introduction of vaccine passports as an entrance requirement for cultural venues.  We work really hard to be inclusive and accessible to all and we think this measure would be likely to disadvantage people that are already disadvantaged, and would alienate people that we want to include. 

“We want to make sure that when we re-open everyone feels safe and welcome and if that means continuing with Covid safety measures for longer, such as additional cleaning, distancing and mask wearing, in order to include everyone, that's what we will do."

This view was echoed by independent producer Karen Goddard, currently working on Stow and Tell, a community project in Stowmarket. “The idea is that we are supposed to be taking down barriers to people engaging with the arts. I think a vaccine passport is just putting up more barriers.”

Julie Cole, for Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, said that the situation wasn’t as straight forward as it first appeared but they wouldn’t be jumping to any hasty conclusions.

“We are at the very early days in our thoughts on vaccine passports and will continue to discuss their merit along with other Covid measures which we are employing.

“At the moment, given that vaccines are currently only planned for over 18’s and that the over 18 population isn’t due to be fully vaccinated until the end of July, we have no current plans to include them in our measures to ensure audience members are safe to return.

“The logistics and ethics of limiting that audience to only those who could prove they had received the Covid 19 vaccine are likely to make it unfeasible for venues such as theatres.

“It is likely that, as the weeks roll on and restrictions ease, we will all have to adapt to the new situations we find ourselves in so we aren’t ruling anything out in the future and will continue to monitor the latest guidelines alongside audience confidence.”

Ivan Cutting,, artistic director of Eastern Angles, with independent producer Karen Goddard

Eastern Angles founder Ivan Cutting with independent producer Karen Goddard - both were uncertain about vaccine passports

Ivan Cutting, artistic director and founder of Eastern Angles, said that they run their own theatre as well as touring to public spaces such as community centres and village halls but there doesn’t appear to be clear guidance on how the passports will work on a practical, day-to-day basis.

“When we are touring who is responsible for enforcing the passport policy? Is it us as the touring company putting on a play or the trustees of the community centre or village hall? On a personal level I don’t have a problem with having a vaccine passport but there are genuine reasons for people not to be vaccinated and we have to ask should they really be excluded?

“There is also the question of when do you provide your proof of vaccination? When you buy the tickets which could be months before the performance or do you show them again at the door on the night and then that puts a lot of pressure on volunteer front of house staff and could lead to all sorts of upsets and delays to the start of the performance. It really does need to be properly thought through.”

At Colchester’s Mercury theatre executive director, Steve Mannix, said it was too soon to draw any conclusions. “We will, of course, be following the latest government and industry guidance and following the outcomes from the test events planned nationwide in April with interest.”

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