'We have broken a lot of hearts': Frozen, Pippin cancel shows amid Sydney Covid outbreak

Magic Mike and My Brilliant Career also have runs affected, but the show goes on for Sydney Theatre Company – as the Sydney festival holds its breath

NSW Covid hotspots – list of venues and case locations

A chill wind is blowing through Sydney’s theatres this week, with major productions cancelled in the wake of the Covid lockdown on Sydney’s northern beaches and the city-wide outbreak which has so far infected 90 people.

The freeze is on for Disney’s Frozen, which has cancelled all scheduled performances up to the planned Christmas closure on 23 December.

Prior to this announcement, made on Monday, the show played to in excess of 1,700 people per performance, under the NSW Health Department exemption for performing arts venues. Frozen is hoping to reopen on 26 December.

Magic Mike Live did not open in the Entertainment Quarter in Sydney’s Moore Park on 20 December as advertised; instead, its producers hope to reopen on 27 December.

The musical Pippin, which has been playing at the Lyric Theatre, has also closed its doors until 27 December “out of an abundance of caution”, said Graeme Kearns, the CEO of Foundation Theatres which operates the Capitol and Lyric Theatres.

“It’s been a rough few days,” Kearns said. “The venues asked all patrons from the northern beaches not to attend the theatres over the weekend and relocated a small number of staff from the northern beaches into the city.

“I think we have broken a lot of hearts and for that I am sorry,” Kearns said. “But it was the socially responsible thing to do. We want to do our part for NSW health and safety.”

Christmas is a time when family groups come to the theatre, often for the first time, said Kearns. “It’s one of the great strengths of Sydney; families really come out for shows pre-Christmas, but I can assure people we have the capacity to reschedule tickets so they can come again soon. We know clusters can pop up and we are ready for that.”

At the time of writing, Sydney Theatre Company’s (STC) production of The Picture of Dorian Gray in the Roslyn Packer Theatre is going ahead as advertised, with the reduced capacity of 75% – or 672 seats – mandated by the current NSW Health exemptions for some theatres.

The production is a one-woman show starring Eryn Jean Norvill playing 26 different characters. The Roslyn Packer Theatre has maintained strict protocols: Covid marshals ensure all audience members are signed in with a QR code and no one can enter the theatre unmasked. Foyer bars are closed and ushers enforce mask-wearing during the show.

Last weekend’s performances of My Brilliant Career at Belvoir theatre were cancelled due to uncertainty about the cluster. But a show is resuming on Tuesday and Wednesday night at 75% capacity – with masks mandatory – before a scheduled break until 29 December.

Belvoir asks its audiences to bring their own mask and wear it at all times while in the building. The theatre’s bars are open, however, and guests are allowed to “raise” their masks while drinking.

“Belvoir is a small theatre, and we have a Department of Health exemption for 75% maximum capacity although we’ve elected to run at a lower capacity for the next couple of weeks,” said Sue Donnelly, executive director at Belvoir. “This allows for social distancing in our theatre and foyer. Belvoir has strong Covid-safe policies, including being the first theatre to announce that masks would be mandatory.”

Both Belvoir and STC are refunding or exchanging tickets to any patrons who reside in or have visited the northern beaches recently, in line with NSW state guidelines for self-isolation.

The recent outbreak serves to remind theatre producers that their business model sits on a knife edge. Quick lockdowns of entire local government areas can seriously impact audience numbers and send box office staff into frenzied rebooking. Worse still, cast and crew can suddenly find themselves on the other side of a line that can’t be crossed.

Among those most concerned with the immediate future will be Opera Australia, which plans to open its production of The Merry Widow on 5 January, and Sydney festival 2021, whose productions – all locally sourced due to the pandemic – open in venues across Sydney from 6 January.

Across Sydney, it will be a quieter-than-usual festive season.

Citing NSW Health advice, City of Sydney has cancelled all live music and pop-up shows, including roving Christmas-themed performances in the city centre and the daily light shows around the Christmas tree in Martin Place.

The tree remains in place. Christmas is not entirely cancelled.


Elissa Blake

The GuardianTramp

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