Audiences at performance venues across Northern Ireland may be required to wear face masks when they reopen, according to new guidance.
While such venues have not been given a date when they can reopen for indoor performances, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has issued a comprehensive guidance manual which provides an extensive range of practical measures that will enable performance spaces including theatres, arts centres, galleries, studios and arts hubs to reopen to the public safely.
Taking its title from lines of a poem by Northern Ireland poet Miriam Gamble, In The Bubble of Our Making: Reopening the Arts in Northern Ireland, covers all aspects of reopening, including risk assessments, staff training, capacity considerations and special provisions so audiences can be reassured that all the appropriate measures are in place and the environment they are entering is safe.
The guidance was commissioned from SLUA Event Safety Consultancy and sets out the protocols, adjustments and equipment that will be required by venues to maintain social distancing and protect the health and wellbeing of audiences, performers, staff and participants.
A section within the manual, titled ‘creating work’, offers guidance for organisations, arts groups, individual practitioners and everyone engaged within the arts in taking steps back into working together safely to present public performances.
Recommendations include the introduction of a one-way system, hand sanitisers and removing seats to create audience "pods".
Venues have also been advised they can introduce temperature checks for audiences, however this is not mandatory.
Smaller productions, such as one-person shows, and more online performances have also been mooted.
Venues have been advised to keep recordings of anyone attending for 21 days to help with contact tracing.
Other measures include:
In terms of face coverings, the guidance states: "Based on your risk assessment and taking into account audience expectation, you may decide that you will require all visiting public to wear face coverings as part of your new entry conditions.
"Current guidance states that wearing a face covering is recommended in situations where it is difficult to practice social distancing e.g. on public transport or in enclosed public spaces."
Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said there is "an enormous appetite" for a return to live arts.
"We want to make sure that our venues have the most up-to-date guidance that will allow them to safely open their doors and welcome back audiences," she said.
"We are also keen to see arts organisations continue to develop the astonishing aptitude they have shown during the lockdown for adapting to circumstances and finding novel ways of reaching out to audiences."
Roisin added: "We can use this experience alongside the new guidance to expand our horizons and re-engage audiences in different ways, in different shapes and in different places. Out of the current challenges could emerge an altogether new and complementary model of how we make and present the arts in Northern Ireland.”
The guidance comes after it was announced that Belfast's Grand Opera House would be forced to delay its reopening and cancel the annual Christmas pantomime.
The theatre shut in January ahead of the pandemic and lockdown to undergo a major restoration and development project, and was due to reopen in November in time for the panto season.
To download the manual, In the bubble of our making: reopening the arts in Northern Ireland, visit www.artscouncil-ni.org