The Sydney Theatre Company’s Playing Beatie Bow will be the first in NSW to play to a full house from Tuesday night marking a momentous moment for the state’s pandemic hit arts and entertainment sector.
Almost one year to the day that the STC shut its doors to the virulent COVID-19, NSW Health has approved the state’s first 100 per cent capacity performances.
Curtains for the highly anticipated musical Hamilton will also rise on a sell-out audience when it premieres March 17, the day after the NSW Premier is to officially review public gathering restrictions.
Sofia Nolan and Catherine Van-Davies will bring the time travelling story by author Ruth Park to life before a full house from Tuesday.Credit:Daniel Boud
Theatres are currently limited to 75 per cent capacity under public health orders.
Exemptions have been granted to the STC and the Sydney Lyric Theatre conditional on patrons wearing masks in a move that signals growing confidence in the state’s capacity to contain spot outbreaks and trust in venues’ abilities to manage audiences in a COVID safe manner.
STC’s executive director Patrick McIntyre said performances of Playing Beatie Bow and the Wharf Revue, which has had its season extended, had been selling out at 75 per cent.
“We are maxing out our allowed capacity and we are running waitlists on both those shows with people who are wanting to buy tickets and can’t,” he said.
“Now we’ll be able to start selling to capacity. People are ready to come back out to the theatre, into public life and start socialising again so it’s really exciting.”
The hit hip-hop musical Hamilton, coming to Sydney in March.
A spokesperson for Hamilton’s Australian producer Michael Cassel said the Sydney Lyric Theatre had put “forward a robust plan that ensured the safety of the cast, crew and audience”.
Sydney Opera House said it was consulting with stakeholders including NSW health “in order to progress a formal exemption application”.
As with all theatre venues, the exemption is critical to the STC’s long-term financial viability.
“We need to sell every show at 85 per cent each year to make the business model work,” McIntyre said. “At 75 per cent it’s not quite enough to feed the engine. Once we hit 100 per cent [capacity] we need to head back to those 85 per cent plus averages across all shows. I don’t think we can break even because we are almost at the first quarter of the year and there are other downstream things affected like catering and venue hire but we will give it the biggest nudge we can.”
STC reportedly received $6 million from the first tranche of a $50 million Rescue and Restart package announced in May by Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet after losing $18 million in revenue due to the shutdown last March.
Mr McIntyre said he hoped to trade out of deficit next year, without recourse for more government assistance.
The exemption for STC was granted by Health Minister Brad Hazzard subject to a number of conditions, including that the theatre comply with its comprehensive COVID-19 Safety Plan to ensure the risk associated with increased numbers can be appropriately managed.
Air conditioning and ventilation were all state of the art at the newly refurbished Wharf Theatre, and had been checked for compliance at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.
“We have to continue to strongly encourage mask-wearing, which we will, it will remain mandatory in our theatres,” McIntyre said. “We have to communicate with ticket buyers ahead of time to make sure they understand that they could be in a 100 percent capacity house, and we will continue to offer refunds to people who don’t feel comfortable with that, and we have to do reminder messaging to make sure that people are monitoring hotspots and encouraging people to stay away if they are not well.”
STC will next week announce the second act of its 2021 program, likely to collectively bring more shows to the stage than pre-COVID.
The NSW Government would continue to consider the capacity for other theatre
productions and to review health restrictions in light of the current COVID-19
the situation, a Department of Health spokesperson said.
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