The announcement gives the green light for performances to resume at venues for open-air opera at Glyndebourne, Sussex, and plays at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre, to go ahead this summer, as well as the musical drive-in Six in London’s West End.
A change in planning rules will also mean theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues will be protected from demolition or change of use by developers, preventing those that have been made temporarily vacant during lockdown disappearing altogether and giving extra security as they start to re-open.
All tickets must be purchased online and venues are encouraged to move towards e-ticketing for help with track-and-trace operations in case of an outbreak at a performance.
Announcing the move at a 10 Downing Street press conference, Mr Dowden said: “Our culture, heritage and arts are too precious to lose. That’s why we’re protecting venues like theatres from redevelopment if they fall on hard times.
“We are also giving further clarity on restart dates in our roadmap back to performance. From July 11 we can all enjoy performances outdoors with social distancing and we are working hard to get indoor audiences back as soon as we safely can, following pilots. Our scientific research project will also help speed up this journey.
“Combined with our £1.57bn rescue package, this is a comprehensive plan to help our brilliant arts organisations weather the Covid storm and bounce back stronger.”
Mr Dowden said that the government will also work with the sector to pilot a number of small indoor performances with a socially distanced audience to look at how performances can restart indoors.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working alongside sector bodies including UK Theatre, the Association of British Orchestras and the Musicians’s Union to identify suitable pilots, which will include working with London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke’s as well as the London Palladium and Butlins holiday parks.
Guidance is being released on how venues can make their performances Covid-secure, including advice on issues ranging from casting, sound and lighting, costumes and fitting to cloakrooms, orchestra pits, hair and make-up.
Singing and the playing of brass and wind instruments will be permitted only in a managed and controlled environment to minimise the risk of spread of coronavirus through droplets expelled from the mouth.
Mr Dowden has commissioned a scientific study on the risks associated with singing and brass instruments in partnership with Public Health England, professional musicians from the Royal Opera House and the BBC and scientists from Bristol University and Imperial College, London.
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