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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

The information below is designed to help venues and organisations prepare for reopening to audiences when they are able to do so.

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.

People should continue to physically distance from those they do not live with wherever possible. Face coverings are mandatory for audiences in performing arts venues, including theatres, concert halls, music venues and comedy clubs, unless the person is exempt for health, disability or other reasons.  Also exempt are those who are performing, presenting, addressing a public gathering, making a speech or being a panel member, where:

  • there is a partition between the person and other persons, or
  • physical distance 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 accommodate 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. Similar steps should be taken to prevent other close contact activities - such as communal dancing, singing or crowding.

Staging and capacity


To ensure that the arrangements and performances staged are consistent with ensuring safe distancing.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • 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.

Ticketing and payments


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 usually 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 alternative 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

Test and Protect – collecting customer data


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 customers for a period of 21 days to support contact tracing in the event someone linked to a performance contracts COVID-19.

Further information is available in the guidance for Test and Protect – collection of customer and visitor contact details.

The Scottish Government has introduced the free ‘Check-in Scotland’ digital product. Guidance and a user toolkit can be found at: Check-in Scotland

Collection of customer details is mandatory in hospitality settings.

Cloakrooms and security checks


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:

  • considering very carefully whether cloakrooms should be open, given the challenges in operating them safely
  • cleaning cloak rooms 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


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

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has designed guidance to supplement their general guidance for consumers and food businesses. It adapts our Coronavirus (COVID-19): business and physical distancing guidance and the advice published by Health Protection Scotland for non-healthcare settings for application in food settings. This guidance also takes account of guidelines produced by the food industry on practical ways to provide a safe working environment at this time. 

Organisations with queries or concerns regarding food safety practices in their premises should contact their local authority environmental health department for advice.

Seating/standing arrangements and use of common areas (including toilets)


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

Key principles to follow for seating/standing include:

  • audiences should be seated or standing as individuals or groups from the same household
  • these individuals and groups should maintain physical distancing
  • seating/standing space 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:

  • providing seating/standing space in a way which ensures physical distancing between individuals or groups from the same household can be maintained. All seating/standing space should be allocated in advance.
  • providing allocated seating/standing space 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

Hospitality areas

For the purpose of this guidance, the hospitality sector includes hospitality areas, such as bars and cafes, situated within other premises, including theatres and performing arts venues. 

Any performing arts organisations or venues which are planning to reopen hospitality or retail spaces in line with this guidance must ensure that appropriate mitigations are put in place. Information on additional mitigating measures for operating hospitality areas at the required physical distancing can be found in the guidance for the tourism and hospitality sector. Please note that customer detail collection is mandatory for hospitality.

Managing contractors and other visitors


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

Best practice before the COVID-19 pandemic was that organisations /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 performances 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


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 audience members and other visitors 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


Returning workers, contractors, 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. Venues and performing arts organisations 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.


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:

  • reviewing  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


As a minimum we expect organisations to establish measures, in collaboration with trade union or workforce representatives, to monitor compliance with relevant regulations and processes put in place to enable safe working.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA), your relevant enforcing authority (for how you control the risk of coronavirus) will be either:

  • the Local Authority (LA) Environmental Health Service
  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

The relevant enforcing authority is listed for all types of premises.

Enforcing authorities will apply the same requirements.

HSE can be contacted by phone on 0300 003 1647 or online at HSE contact form.

HSE and LAs 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.

Organisations should put in place robust local arrangements to monitor compliance with new operational arrangements. This should be done with trade union or workforce representatives. Advice, guidance and support from external enforcement authorities should be sought where necessary. A compliance self-assessment tool is available to help assess the effectiveness of COVID-19 control measures within your workplace.

A single point of contact has also been established for trade unions and workers to help us understand how all COVID-19 workplace guidance is being implemented. This will help shape and refine guidance based on the real experience of workers in the workplace.

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

First published: 10 Nov 2020 Last updated: 23 Jul 2021 -