The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) has backed calls from the UK’s entertainment sector for the government to expand and extend support measures as the industry remains mostly closed due to COVID-19.

The  self-regulatory body for the UK’s entertainment and ticketing industry, which is supported by official bodies such as the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office of Fair Trading, has called for an extension of the furlough scheme and the self-employment scheme tailored to the events industry until the sector can reopen in a viable way.

It has also supported calls for a government backed insurance scheme for business interruption cancellation, which includes COVID risk. It is also urging the government to provide clarity on when events can take place at full capacity under the stage five government COVID-19 Secure guidance, as well as to offer a three-year extension to the five percent cultural vat rate on tickets sold.

Indoor performances with socially distanced audiences were given the green light a month ago in England, however, only a small number of theatres have reopened. STAR notes that although some theatres are now starting to sell for shows with lower capacities, many won’t reopen their doors to the public until social distancing ends.

“Producers, venues and ticket sellers all agree that socially distanced shows are not a viable solution,” a STAR spokesperson said in a statement.

“Financially, they just don’t add up. Whether or not theatres are able to open with one or two-metre distancing in place (one metre is allowed where the risk is effectively mitigated), the number of seats they are able to sell won’t come near to the 80-90% capacity typically needed to break even.”

‘Sleepless: A Musical Romance’ was the first London musical launched at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in mid-August. However, STAR reports that despite strong ticket sales, the show’s producers have warned against this being hailed as the solution for theatre.

Chris Kelsey, head of ticketing and sales at KX TICKETS, said: “We felt the vast and flexible theatre at Wembley Park was the perfect place to create a 100% COVID-19 secure venue and prove to the public how safe attending a theatre show can be. Yet even with the best ticket sales in the world, it is simply not enough to break even. We are doing this to keep theatre alive until venues can reopen at full capacity.”

Last week, Nimax Theatres also announced a programme of special shows opening at its six theatres from October 22 with social distancing plus risk mitigation measures in place.

Chief executive of Nimax Theatres, Nica Burns, said: “Although with reduced capacities it is not possible to make a profit, we will be earning a contribution to our costs. With the furlough support scheme ending on 31st October, this income will help us retain Nimax’s highly skilled, experienced workforce and give work to some of the talented tapestry of freelancers onstage and backstage.”

In addition, many in the industry have continued to remind the government that content cannot be produced over night, with Andrew Lloyd Webber recently stating, “you can’t switch theatre back on like a tap”.

Theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh said early on that socially distanced shows do not work and are not financially viable, taking the decision to postpone his productions, including ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, until as early as practical in 2021.

Paul Oxley, head of sales and ticketing at Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, said: “Large scale musicals, such as those the West End thrives on, will need a minimum of three months to get back on the stage. We cannot start planning, recasting or rehearsing until we know social distancing has been lifted for good. When shows do reopen, we need to be sure there is enough customer confidence there to build up an advance in ticket sales and fill our theatres.”

Image: Matt May uploaded and derivative work: MrPanyGoff / CC BY 2.0 / Edited for size