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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
Physical distancing in performing arts environments

Physical distancing in performing arts environments


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

This section sets out some general principles to manage physical distancing in performing arts environments.

You must maintain physical distancing in the performing arts environment wherever possible.

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 between staff, workers, participants and audiences.

Mitigating actions include:

  • further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
  • keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
  • using back-to-back or side-to-side positioning (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams, groups or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).

Fixed teams could be operated as follows:

  • grouping individuals into fixed teams that work together throughout a production or for specific periods to minimise the risk of transmission beyond these fixed teams
  • in particular there should be no opportunity for physical distancing to be breached by individuals between more than one fixed team at a time
  • minimising transmission risk between fixed teams when they mix outside their group during a rehearsal or performance and during breaks or moving around a venue
  • ensuring that there is no swapping between designated fixed teams. This is to reduce the risk of whole team impact in the event of a worker contracting COVID-19
  • using screens where feasible to separate individuals or fixed teams from each other where they cannot achieve physical distancing

Physical distancing applies to all parts of a premises or venue, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens, foyers and bars, and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain physical distancing.

Managing capacity and overcrowding

Objective: To ensure distancing is possible by limiting the number of people able to access the premises or venue.

Maximum capacity should be based on the government requirement for physical distancing given the nature of activities (i.e. if the activity is static vs. requiring a range of movement) and equipment layout and the configuration of space. For outdoor events, consult the events guidance.

Particular attention should be given to ventilation and sufficient circulation space especially around equipment and between groups and any classes and coaches or teachers.

Steps that will usually be needed:

Conducting a specific risk assessment for each premises or venue and the proposed activities to identify:

  • the likely numbers of people that will be in the venue at different times of its use
  • the number of people that can reasonably follow physical distancing within the venue, taking into account total space, equipment as well as likely constraints (toilets and washrooms) and pinch points
  • which activities can be undertaken and which spaces can be used with specific measures to ensure physical distancing and maintain cleaning
  • limiting the number of people in the venue, overall and in any particular congestion areas, for example doorways between outside and inside spaces and queues for toilets and bars
  • enabling a booking system or other approaches to manage demand of spaces, so that no more than the desired number of people are in the building at any one time
  • managing occupancy levels and changeover by reducing class, rehearsal group or audience sizes and amending timetabling
  • allowing a sufficient break time between sessions or performances held to prevent waiting in groups
  • where possible, operating on a book-in-advance basis for any spaces available to hire, preferably online or over the phone

Coming to and leaving premises or venues

Objective: To maintain physical distancing wherever possible, on arrival and departure.

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
  • staggering arrival and departure times to reduce crowding into and out of the venue or premises, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics
  • providing additional parking or facilities such as bike-racks to help people walk, run, or cycle where possible
  • considering a flexible call schedule so that people can avoid travel at peak times
  • limiting passengers in shared vehicles, for example, minibuses. This could include leaving seats empty
  • reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points in larger venues and premises
  • using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points, and considering how physical distancing markers can be made as accessible as reasonably practicable
  • providing handwashing facilities (or hand sanitiser where not possible) at entry and exit points.
  • providing alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads
  • communicating ahead of arrival and on arrival the guidance about who should self-isolate, for example to attendees at castings, workshops and rehearsals

Moving around buildings

Objective: To maintain physical distancing as far as possible while people travel through premises or venues.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • reducing movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging use of radios or telephones, where permitted. These items require cleaning between users if multi-use.
  • introducing more one-way flow through buildings. Providing floor markings and signage should remind workers, participants and visitors to follow to physical distancing wherever possible.
  • reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible
  • making sure that people with disabilities are able to access lifts
  • regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain physical distancing

First published: 9 Oct 2020 Last updated: 16 Oct 2020 -