Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the performing arts and venues sector

Guidance for the performing arts and venues sector on safe re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the performing arts and venues sector
Managing audiences, participants and performances

Managing audiences, participants and performances

Objective: To maintain physical distancing wherever possible in performing arts environments.

Please note indoor performances with a live audience are only permitted in local authority areas at Levels 0 and 1 on the strategic framework. The information below is designed to help venues and organisations prepare for reopening to audiences.

If organising outdoor performances performing arts organisations and venues should take account of this guidance and the guidance for events.

This section sets out some general principles to prepare and manage performance activity and audiences, focussing on some of the customer journey touchpoints that should be revised in light of COVID-19 guidance.

Where the physical distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, organisations should consider whether that activity needs to continue, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission for audiences and participants.

People should continue to physically distance from those they do not live with wherever possible. Social interactions should follow current  guidance, particularly in relation to the number of individuals or households meeting together currently permitted in their local authority area, according to its level on the strategic framework. Face coverings are mandatory in  performing arts venues, including theatres, concert halls and comedy clubs, unless the person is exempt for health, disability or other reasons or is performing, presenting, addressing a public gathering, making a speech or being a panel member, where:

(i)there is a partition between the person and other persons, or

(ii)a distance of at least two metres is maintained between the person and other persons

Consult the up to date advice on wearing face coverings as this may change with each review stage.

Individual businesses or venues should consider the cumulative impact of many venues re-opening in a small area. This means working with local authorities, neighbouring businesses and travel operators to assess this risk and applying additional mitigations. These could include:

  • further lowering capacity - even if it is possible to safely seat a number of people inside a venue, it may not be safe for them all to travel or enter that venue
  • staggering entry times with other venues and premises and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas
  • arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues
  • advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue

When members of the public are attending performances, organisers should ensure that steps are taken to avoid audiences needing to unduly raise their voices to each other. This includes, but is not limited to, refraining from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting, including if played at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult, for example during performance intervals. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission - particularly from aerosol and droplet transmission. You should take similar steps to prevent other close contact activities - such as communal dancing in audiences.

Staging and capacity

Objective: To ensure that the size of audience, the arrangements and performances staged are consistent with ensuring safe distancing.

Risk assessments should specifically consider the maximum capacity for a given performance and the ability to manage audience behaviour to avoid compromising physical distancing. Restricted capacity limits are in place for venues permitted to reopen – see section on Strategic Framework and Levels at the beginning of this document. Capacity should be calculated based on ensuring 2 metre physical distancing up to the permitted upper limit and in discussion on restricted numbers with your local authority. Matters such as ventilation system, pinch points, transport, performance type, local circumstances and length of event should be taken into account to determine appropriate number for the venue which might be below the upper limit.

For outdoor events, consult the events guidance.

In order to ensure this can be achieved, audience members should be seated in a pre-allocated seat. Audience members should not be standing during a performance.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • reducing venue capacity and limiting ticket sales to a volume which ensures physical distancing can be maintained
  • managing performance scheduling so that audiences for different performances are not using the venue at the same time in a way that compromises adherence to physical distancing, and to allow for adequate cleaning
  • considering using available spaces outdoors for performances with a live audience in attendance - see events guidance
  • considering the expected interactions amongst audience members and making sure sufficient controls are in place to maintain physical distancing, for example providing clear communication, demarcating spaces, using sufficient ushers
  • making sure risk assessments carefully consider worker safety, especially of those working closely with a large number of members of the public or audience
  • discouraging or avoiding gatherings such as performances or screenings that may encourage audience behaviours that increase transmission risk, for example crowding, clustering or physical contact outside of household groups
  • considering where crowding could take place such as at points of ingress and egress, car parking, handwashing and toilet facilities, waiting areas, bars and restaurants and areas in proximity to performance area
  • consulting with relevant authorities and specialist advice to best evaluate impact, develop mitigating strategies and coordinate relevant external agencies if required
  • scientific studies indicate that the cumulative aerosol transmission from both those performing in and those attending indoor events may create risk. Adequate ventilation is therefore critical within performing arts venues (see Ventilation systems information below).

Ticketing and payments

Objective: To maintain physical distancing when managing ticketing and payments.

Ticket sales should be limited to a volume which allows for physical distancing to be achieved, both in auditoria and other parts of the venue.

Steps that will yususally be needed: 

  • where possible, encouraging guests to purchase tickets online and to use e-ticketing. Where this is not the case, encouraging contactless payment.
  • allowing for contactless payment and other technology solutions on all purchases made in the venue, while providing alternatives for those who do not have access to contactless payments
  • frequent cleaning of any payment points or ticketing equipment that are touched regularly
  • maintaining physical distancing as far as possible when checking tickets

Cloakrooms and security checks

Objective: To minimise the risk of transmission in the operation of cloakrooms and security checks. performance venues and events should review whether and how they operate cloakrooms, in particular:

  • closing cloakrooms wherever possible given the challenges in operating them safely
  • considering very carefully whether cloakrooms should be open, given the challenges in operating them safely
  • cleaning them very frequently
  • considering using no contact procedures where applicable, such as lockers
  • suggesting to audience they limit items carried to the venue

Managing food, drink and retail purchases, and food and drink consumption

Objective: To risk assess and manage food, drink and other retail purchases and consumption to maintain physical distancing.

Risk assessment of the preparation, handling, purchase and consumption of all food and drink, and other retail purchases such as programmes and merchandise should be undertaken to identify the need for any necessary changes to procedures. Please refer to the tourism and hospitality guidance and retail sector guidance for further guidance and considerations for the operation of retail areas, food and drink concessions.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • considering allowing guests to pre-order and collect refreshments and other retail merchandise at designated points throughout the venue to maximise physical distancing and reduce pinch points. For example, avoid selling programmes or ice-cream inside or outside the auditoria where crowds and queues may form and make physical distancing harder to observe.
  • removing “pick and mix” or self-service food and drink facilities to reduce the risk of transmission
  • using screens to create a physical barrier between staff and customers at concessions points
  • considering adopting seat service at intervals in order to reduce pinch points at bars
  • considering providing programmes and other performance materials in digital format

Entrances, exits and managing people flow

Objective: To maintain physical distancing wherever possible when people move around the venue during performances.

Steps that will usually be needed:

Adapt performance scheduling to support physical distancing and good hygiene. For example, scheduling sufficient time between performances to reduce the possibility of different audiences coming into close proximity and to allow time for cleaning.

Use space outside the venue for queuing where available and safe. Outside queues should be managed to make sure they do not cause a risk to individuals or other businesses, for example by using barriers and by having staff direct visitors.

Work with your local authority or landlord to take into account the impact of your processes, for example queues, on public spaces such as high streets and public car parks.

Reduce instances where people might be required to queue. For example, at:

  • entrances and exits to the building
  • escalators, stairs and lifts
  • ticket and concessions kiosks and ticket validation points
  • entrances and exits to auditoria
  • toilets and washrooms

Where possible, designate staff to manage queues and regulate guest access between areas

Encourage visitors to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities as they enter the venue.

Use queue management and mark out one-way flow systems through the venue to reduce contact points. For example, introduce one-way systems through the common areas, using auditorium fire exits as the standard so that guests are not required to pass each other when entering and exiting these spaces.

Help visitors maintain physical distancing by placing clearly visible markers along the floor or walls, advising on appropriate spacing.

Ensure any changes to entry, exit and queue management take into account reasonable adjustments for those who need them, including disabled visitors.

Extra stewarding/marshalling may be needed at key pinch points and care should be taken to remove any barriers at exits that might cause crowding. This should be considered as part of the event’s crowd management plan, in consultation with those responsible for managing security and marshalling etc.

Management of crowd density points, such as where people stop to watch displays, must be considered as part of this planning to ensure physical distancing can be maintained.

Limit the potential for guest contact with performers and support staff by, for example:

  • using theatre security to keep stage door areas clear before and after a performance to allow performers and other staff to enter and exit safely
  • not permitting visitors backstage
  • not permitting autograph signing or photographs with performers

Seating arrangements and use of common areas (including toilets)

Objective: To maintain physical distancing wherever possible when audience use common areas (including toilets) and the performance area or auditorium.

Each auditorium or performance venue should be managed to ensure the maintenance of physical distancing and manage capacity. In order to ensure this can be achieved, audience members should be seated in a pre-allocated seat. Audience members should not be standing during a performance.

Key principles to follow for seating include:

  • audiences should be seated as individuals or groups from the same household
  • these individuals and groups should maintain physical distancing
  • seating and space for those requiring disabled seating or wheelchair space should be considered within the physical distancing arrangements with due regard to accessibility responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010

Steps that will usually be needed: 

  • avoid using public transport, and aim to walk, cycle, or drive instead. If using public transport is necessary, wearing a face covering is mandatory, unless you are exempt for health, disability or other reasons.
  • providing seating in a way which ensures physical distancing between individuals or groups from the same household can be maintained. All seating should be allocated in advance.
  • providing allocated seating and managing seating plans through ticketing systems or manually to ensure physical distancing is maintained
  • it is expected that guests will take responsibility for their own and others’ welfare and abide by physical distancing in the auditorium. Staff should nevertheless be deployed to ensure that these measures are being observed. This may include increased checks and supervision, in particular before and at the end of each performance.
  • reminding guests who are accompanied by children that they are responsible for supervising them at all times and should follow physical distancing guidelines
  • having clearly designated positions from which venue staff can provide advice or assistance to guests whilst maintaining physical distance
  • cleaning auditoria very frequently and scheduling performances to allow sufficient time to undertake necessary cleaning before the next audience arrives

Set clear use and cleaning guidance for toilet and washroom facilities to:

  • ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved as much as possible; for example, by reducing the number of urinals, cubicles, washbasins and hand dryers available
  • considering the likely patterns of use during a performance, for example during intervals, and modifying any requirements or restrictions to reduce likelihood of these areas becoming pinch points
  • making guests and audience aware of the particular challenges that these areas present and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own and others’ welfare
  • taking into account anticipated access requirements of disabled visitors.

Managing contractors and other visitors

Objective: To minimise contact resulting from contractors and other visitors to performing arts venues and premises.

Best practice before the COVID-19 pandemic was that event organisers should obtain risk assessments from their contractors. In light of the virus it is even more important to check to see how contractors will safely operate within any restrictions.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • providing clear guidance on physical distancing and hygiene to people on arrival, for example, signage and visual aids
  • providing written or spoken communication of the latest guidelines to visitors and contractors inside and outside the venue
  • provide early clarity to supply chain about whether events are taking place
  • treat all visitors including suppliers, sub-contractors and delivery drivers, as if they were workers, ensuring they are offered the same protections and are expected to follow the same rules 

Providing and explaining available guidance

Objective: To minimise the contact resulting from visits to performance venues and premises by providing adequate guidance.

Steps that will usually be needed: 

  • providing clear guidance on physical distancing and hygiene to guests before arrival, for example by email when purchasing tickets, and on any digital marketing and websites
  • people with symptoms of COVID-19, or who have been advised to self-isolate following contact with someone with symptoms of COVID-19, should be asked not to attend
  • providing clear guidance on physical distancing and hygiene to people on arrival and throughout the venue, for example, signage and visual aids

Cleaning objects, equipment and environments

Objective: To make sure that any venue or location that has been closed or partially operated is clean and ready to restart, including:

  • an assessment for all venues and premises, or parts of venues and premises, that have been closed, before reopening or resuming activity
  • cleaning procedures and providing hand sanitiser, before reopening or resuming activity

Steps that will usually be needed: 

  • establishing new cleaning regimes for the premises or venue and determining how they will be delivered effectively with the planned hours of operation, for example on a daily basis, with some surfaces cleaned regularly throughout the day

Ventilation systems

Objective: To ensure adequate ventilation.

Scientific studies indicate that it is the cumulative aerosol transmission from both those performing in and those attending indoor events that is likely to create risk. Adequate ventilation is therefore critical within performing arts venues.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • employers should check whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems, for example, so that they do not automatically reduce ventilation levels due to lower than normal occupancy levels
  • where systems serve multiple buildings or you are unsure, advice can be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers (or via the landlord in the case of shared premises)
  • undertaking a risk assessment of a ventilation system may require advice from competent persons, such as professionally registered engineers who are Chartered or Incorporated Engineers registered with the Engineering Council
  • systems should be adjusted to use outside air rather than recirculating air from within the building and windows and doors should be opened frequently to encourage ventilation, where possible
  • ventilation of empty buildings is recommended but at a reduced rate/speed

Legionella testing

There is an increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. Many public and office buildings have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, making legionella a legitimate concern as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The HSE have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis on the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) website.

Building owners or operators should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary, to mitigate risks. More information can be found on the HSE website.

Keeping the environment clean

Objective: To keep the environment clean and prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • frequent, for example at least twice a day, cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses, using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses
  • frequent cleaning, at least twice daily, of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly such as coffee or vending machines or staff handheld devices, and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements for cleaning products
  • extra, frequent deep cleaning of shared spaces such as audition spaces, rehearsal and backstage areas
  • owners keeping instruments and other personal kit clean, and not sharing these items with others
  • clearing workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a class, rehearsal or performance
  • if you are cleaning after a known or suspected case of COVID-19 then you should refer to the specific guidance
  • maintaining good ventilation in the work environment. For example, opening windows and doors frequently, where possible

Hygiene – handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets

Objective:To help everyone keep good hygiene at all times.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • using signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available
  • providing regular reminders and signage to maintain hygiene standards
  • providing hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to washrooms and considering the needs of the wheelchair users in where these are placed
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved as much as possible public toilets, portable toilets and toilets inside premises should be kept open and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Refer to public and customer toilets guidance
  • enhancing cleaning for busy areas
  • providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection
  • providing hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers

Cleaning auditoria

Objective: To minimise the risk of transmission in auditoria.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • cleaning auditoria frequently, typically between each performance, with particular attention paid to surfaces that hands of audience and staff are likely to come into contact with such as doors, seat arms and handrails
  • scheduling performance to allow sufficient time to undertake necessary cleaning before the next audience arrives

Test and Protect: record keeping

Objective: To assist contact tracing as part of NHS Scotland's Test and Protect system.

You should keep a record of name, date, time and a mobile number or email address for all staff, customers and contractors for a period of 21 days to support customers and staff being contact traced in the event someone linked to the event contracts COVID-19.

For bookings on behalf of a household, one contact may be sufficient to support contact tracing. In line with data protection rules, you must ensure the data is only used for its stated purpose (i.e. to support NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system), customers know why data is being collected, and this is stored confidentially and securely and only retained as long as is justifiable and necessary. This may include updating any privacy notices linked to your booking systems. Read further guidance.

Test and Protect: contact tracing app

Protect Scotland is an entirely voluntary app that is an additional part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect service. Having the app should never be a requirement for any workplace. The app complements but does not replace manual contact tracing. It enhances contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk as they have come into close contact (less than 2m for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for COVID-19. Read further information about the contact tracing app for employers, workers and customers. 


Returning workers, contactors, performers / participants and audiences may have some level of apprehension about how safe they may be and they will require reassurance and demonstration that measures have been put in place to ensure safety. Performing arts organisations and venues should recognise the need to have clear and regular communications with their workers and others who will be present at an event to keep them apprised of plans and agreements around what working conditions look like while still dealing with COVID-19, as set out in other sections of this guidance.

In addition to the workforce, other individuals at the event (performers / participants, audiences) should behave responsibly.

Communications for participants and the public about steps that have been taken to minimise risk and any steps they must follow to reduce the risk of transmission will also be important. Event organisers need to give clear instruction of what is expected and take reasonable measures to faciliate this. Attendees should "know before they go" what measures will be in place and what will be required of them. This should include a recommendation to avoid public transport and to walk, cycle or drive instead and that, if using public transport is necessary, wearing a face covering is mandatory unless exempt for health, disability or other reasons. Multiple channels are likely to be required to communicate and reinforce key messages and updates, with visual material proving beneficial in demonstrating changes that have or are being made especially where language barriers may limit the effectiveness of written information.

Objective: To communicate COVID-19 guidelines clearly to all users to ensure understanding of operational and behavioural standards required to run the service safely.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • a review of communication strategies, customer experience touchpoints and tactical plans
  • providing clear, consistent and regular communication to improve understanding and consistency across performing arts and venues
  • developing communication materials for workers and participants prior to returning to site, especially around new procedures for arrival
  • engaging with audiences and participants through existing communication routes to explain and agree any changes in arrangements
  • ongoing engagement with audiences to monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of changes to operating models
  • awareness and focus on the importance of hygiene in public spaces relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • using simple, clear messaging to explain guidelines using images and clear language, with consideration of groups for which English may not be their first language
  • using a variety of communication tools to provide material for people with visual or hearing impairments
  • communicating approaches and operational procedures to suppliers, visitors or trade bodies to help their adoption and to share experience.


Employers should also put in place, with trade union or workforce representatives, robust local arrangements to monitor compliance with new operational arrangements, considering both the workforce and the public. Remedial actions should flow from that monitoring, and be augmented by advice, guidance and support from external enforcement authorities.

It is vital during restart for workers and the public to have confidence in the steps being taken by organisations. Organisations should look to establish processes to allow feedback from workforce and the public on physical distancing and safety protocols, enabling workforce and the public to input on areas of concern and for employers to act upon these concerns.

A single point of contact has also been established for trade union or workforce to help us understand how all COVID-19 workplace guidance is being implemented, and to help shape and refine that guidance based on the real experience of workers in the workplace. The mailbox can be contacted by email:

This contact is not intended to be a reporting mechanism for potential breaches of legislation.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Local Authority Environmental Health services are co-regulators and either can be the enforcing authority, depending on the activities of the organisation. Both enforcing authorities will apply the same requirements. HSE can be contacted by phone on 0300 003 1647 or online using the HSE contact form.

Local Authorities also have powers under public health legislation, for example, covering whether businesses should be operating, the requirement to take all reasonable measures to maintain physical  distancing, or to ensure your workers in the high clinical risk category can follow NHS advice.

HSE and Local Authorities’ Environmental Health Services have agreed to maintain the way they allocate different businesses for enforcement according to existing health and safety law for the purposes of workers’ health and safety.

Where the enforcing authority identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with public health guidance to control COVID-19 health risks to workers, they will consider a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks including the provision of specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices or even prosecution.

Page last updated: 22 December 2020

First published: 10 Nov 2020 Last updated: 8 Jan 2021 -