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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


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.

Performing arts venues are permitted to open at levels 0 - 2, with standard attendance limits. Capacity should be calculated based on ensuring 2 metre physical distancing between individuals/households and in accordance with the guidance and maximum numbers for events set out in the guidance on Calculating Physical Distancing Capacity in Public Settings. Please note that the guidance for calculating physical distancing capacity provides an illustrative calculation which does not take account of seating arrangements and customer flows. Venues can carry out their own (justifiable) calculation based on 2m distancing.

As provided for by the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 23) Regulations 2021, for venues which can accommodate larger audiences, event planners / venue operators may apply to their local authority for exceptions to the above capacities however 2 metre physical distancing must remain in place. The stadia and live events guidance for event planners sets out further details about the process to consider higher capacities.

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
  • for performances, audience members must have allocated seats or standing area for the duration of the performance – either physical seats or marked areas on the ground
  • audience members must be able to enter and exit the venue at fixed points only so numbers can be controlled and contact details collected (if not done in advance)
  • ensure that audience members do not congregate in certain areas (such as toilets, entry/exit or refreshment points) which could make physical distancing difficult
  • 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


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

Entrances, exits and managing people flow


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 audience access between areas.

Encourage audience members 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 may be needed at key pinch points and care should be taken to remove any barriers at exits that might cause crowding.

Limit the potential for audience 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

First published: 10 Nov 2020 Last updated: 17 Jun 2021 -