Heading back to the cinema, theatre or a concert? Here are 3 ways the arts are adapting to COVID-19

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COVID-19 severely impacted the arts. Image: Unsplash/Felix Mooneeram

Katharine Rooney
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  • Around the world, the arts industry is adapting to the challenges of COVID-19.
  • Masks, testing and temperature checks will be required.
  • Some countries are using a COVID passport for entry.
  • 57% of US audiences now feel comfortable going to the cinema.

On Broadway, in London’s West End, and in regions around the world, most theatres have been dark since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. Music festivals have been cancelled. Ballet stars have been forced to train in their living rooms, kitchens, and garages.

The cultural and creative sector has been one of the worst affected by the fallout from the pandemic. The financial impact is huge. By the end of 2020, performing arts revenues in the UK alone had lost more than 90% of ticket sales. In the US, 27% of musicians were unemployed in the last quarter of 2020, compared to just 1.1% in 2019.

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Yet the arts industry appears determined to bounce back. Like many other sectors, it has been forced to adapt in order to survive.

Technology has helped, with many theatres offering live-streamed shows, while others are allowing restricted audience numbers with stringent health measures in place. Here are some of the ways the art world is staying connected to its audiences – solutions that could be the blueprint for our cultural future.

a chart showing how COVID-19 has decimated the arts sector
COVID-19 has had a catastrophic effect on ticket sales for performing arts events in the UK. Image: Statista

1. Coronavirus-compliant performances

Theatres in Berlin are taking part in an audience experiment: included with each €20 personalised ticket is a free COVID-19 test, to be used on the day of a performance. Only those who test negative will be allowed in to watch a show, and only if they wear medical-grade masks throughout.

It’s part of a pilot by the city’s arts organizations and Berlin’s Senate Department for Culture and Europe. The trial covers opera, theatre, and symphony and rock performances, and includes a chance to see legendary conductor Daniel Barenboim leading the Berlin State Opera in The Marriage of Figaro.

The city’s Club Commission is celebrating the success of a COVID-compliant live music show for an audience of 70 at a small bar on the Holzmarkt – or wood market – in the centre of Berlin.

“Hygiene concepts like this one are well thought out and reduce the risk of infection to an absolute minimum,” Club Commission spokesman Lutz Leichsenring said in a statement. “The wood market is safer tonight than any Berlin office.”

Klaus Lederer, Senator for Culture and Europe, said he hoped that the pilot would help lead to “a carefree visit to cultural events as soon as possible.”


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2. Vaccination passes

Israel has vaccinated more than half of its population against COVID-19, and early data shows the effort is helping to reduce infections. As part of the government’s “Operation Getting Back to Life” programme, the country has introduced what it calls a Green Pass for those who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus.

Green Pass holders can access theatres, cinemas and cultural events, with up to 1,500 people allowed into concert arenas. The pass, which can be printed out or used with an app, is valid for six months after a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine, or until the end of June for those who have recovered from COVID-19.

In Tel Aviv in early March, 500 people used the pass to attend a concert by the Israeli singer Ivri Lider at a stadium with the capacity for 30,000. “I hope this is the beginning of a period when we will return to our normal life,” concert-goer Reut Gofer told The Times of Israel.

The Green Pass is being promoted as a route to greater freedom of activity in national advertising campaigns, with the Israeli government hoping that it encourages more young people to get immunized.

Initiatives similar to the Green Pass are already being considered in other countries, including a Digital Green Certificate to enable travel within the European Union.


3. Sanitizer and social distancing

In the heart of movieland, cinemas have been reopening, but with multiple safety measures in place. At the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California, doors, railings, and other high-contact surfaces will be regularly cleaned with medical-grade disinfectants. Hand sanitizer will be stationed throughout the theatre, snacks will be pre-packaged, and seats will be positioned to create six-foot (1.8m) gaps between groups.

Audience capacity at cinemas in California has recently expanded from 25% to 50%, as vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 case numbers in the state continue to drop.

Theatres in other American cities have been gradually reopening, too – including in early March in New York, with research showing that 57% of audiences are now comfortable going to see a film.

The global film industry lost billions in revenues in the first half of 2020. Cinemas have faced competition from streaming services – and a number of films have seen their releases delayed due to COVID-19. But that hasn’t stopped filmgoers in the US from returning to the big screen.

“I didn’t even care what movie was going to play. I just wanted to get back to the movies,” Ken Ruiz, an audience member at the El Capitan, told The Wall Street Journal.

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