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.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the performing arts and venues sector
Where we are now

Where we are now

The First Minister announced that Scotland would be entering a lockdown on 23 March 2020. Under law, the Scottish Government must review that lockdown at least every three weeks. The Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making – Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis, was published on 21 May and sets out the phases by which we will aim to ease lockdown. They will be gradual and incremental and will be matched with careful monitoring of the virus.

Physical distancing duties are set out in regulation 4(1) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. A person who is responsible for carrying on a business or providing a service must take all reasonable measures:

  • to ensure that physical distancing is maintained between any persons on the premises (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer)
  • to ensure that they only admit people to its premises in sufficiently small numbers to make it possible to maintain physical distancing
  • to ensure that physical distancing is maintained between any person waiting to enter the premises (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer)

On 2 July the First Minister announced exemptions for public transport, retail and hospitality sectors to allow a move from 2 metres to 1 metre physical distancing. This is conditional on appropriate additional mitigating measures being implemented to reduce the elevated risk associated with a 1 metre distance as oppose to 2 metres. 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. This applies to indoor and outdoor areas from 15 July 2020.

An update to the Scottish Government’s route-map was also published on 2 July that included examples, for illustrative purposes, of what those additional measures could be.  These include a risk-assessed approach to enhanced hygiene measures throughout the premises, safe access arrangements, the use of screens, clear signage, and safe ordering and payment systems. 

Any performing arts organisations or venues which are planning to reopen hospitality or retail spaces in line with this updated guidance must ensure that appropriate mitigations are put in place. Information on additional mitigating measures for operating hospitality areas at 1 metre physical distancing can be found in the guidance for the tourism and hospitality sector.

We will continue to review other settings for potential exceptions where it is safe to do so with mitigating measures, but 2 metres will remain the default position including for all other areas of theatres, concert halls and performing arts venues. 

It is recognised that the performing arts and venues sector may wish to be considered for exemptions to 2 metres’ physical distancing for:

  1. performers
  2. audience members in performing arts venues

Any consideration of such exceptions for this and other sectors remains based on the effectiveness of available interventions and the prevailing conditions in Scotland at that time, and accordingly will be undertaken in due course.

We need a strong performing arts and venues sector to help drive Scotland's economic recovery and future prosperity. The Scottish Government recognises the important role of the culture sector in the health and wellbeing of our society, as set out in the National Performance Framework. In these challenging times, as we move through our route map in response to the crisis and to eventual recovery, the role of the performing arts and venues in improving the health and wellbeing of our people, and as a catalyst to inspire creativity and problem solving will be even more important.

Organisations should therefore use this guidance to inform any current work and to look forward to a return to live performances with live audiences, which is not expected before 15 October 2020 under Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Route Map. They should engage with trade union or workforce representatives throughout to develop workplace specific plans for work including training, rehearsal, pre-production, creative learning and performances without a live audience, and to plan for the re-opening of venues and a return to live performance for live audiences when permitted and viable. While plans for re-opening to live audiences should be fully developed, with measures put in place and tested where possible, they should not be implemented as yet. Decisions on the phasing of a sector wide return for performing arts and venues to performances with a live audience will be made in line with the route map. Venues’ decisions on whether to reopen to the public when it is permitted for them to do so are for individual organisations to take, including consideration of cost implications.

The Scottish Government has initiated a broad collaborative process to develop sectoral guidance which will underpin that managed transition and provide clarity and confidence to industry, workers and local communities, protect public health and concurrently optimise economic recovery. Aligned with that we are reviewing and enhancing testing and enforcement arrangements, and ensuring that the guidance is coherent and connected, recognising for example transport and other inter-dependencies.

We are working with the UK Government to align our approach and guidance where possible and on the basis of scientific evidence on the levels of infection in Scotland. This guidance is intended to work alongside UK Government guidance and aims to assist employers, businesses and their workforce ensure a safe working environment and readers will recognise consistent themes within this guidance with the UK Government’s  Working Safely during COVID-19 publications.

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Scottish Government’s business and physical distancing guidance which still applies.

Other key guidance includes:

  • HPS: COVID-19 Non Healthcare Settings guidance which provides information on the background to COVID-19, symptoms, general principles of infection prevention and control and health protection measures and what to do if someone becomes unwell on site.
  • NHS Inform which has a wide range of useful public facing information including information on symptoms and what to do.
  • Test and protect website from Scottish government that contains information on getting tested and what you need to do.

Business support

There has been an unprecedented package of support announced from both the Scottish and UK Governments to support businesses. Read more information on support for the culture and creative sector.


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