Running a franchise in the theatre sector hasn’t been easy during COVID-19. Even now, many theatres are still forced to remain shut. The industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, but the end of social contact restrictions is finally in sight. How is the theatre sector preparing for its post-COVID comeback?
As a theatre franchisee, you’ll be able to run your own business without the high risks of starting something new from scratch. You’ll be supported by your franchisor every step of the way. The country is moving slowly out of uncertainty, and the theatre sector is about to burst into life and action. If you have a passion for performing arts, and you want to help revitalise the industry post-pandemic, then an investment in the theatre sector might be the perfect choice.
How will theatre businesses make a comeback post-COVID?
In late February, the government announced its roadmap out of lockdown, aiming to reopen the economy and bring normality back to people’s lives. From May 17th, some large events have been allowed to take place at 50% capacity. Originally, restrictions were due to end completely on June 21st. Now, the date for the final removal of restrictions has been pushed to July 19th, and with the vaccine programme still proceeding at an incredible rate, some sort of normality is still very much within reach. In order to keep people safe, the government currently requires all UK businesses to:
- Complete COVID-19 risk assessments
- Clean their premises regularly and thoroughly
- Ask people to wear face coverings in any indoor space
- Ask people to maintain social distancing
- Partake in the NHS Test and Trace system
- Turn away any customers or staff members with COVID symptoms
For those within the performing arts sector, further guidelines state that businesses must:
- Provide adequate ventilation whenever people are in enclosed spaces together
- Design their production processes to minimise risk as far as possible
- Take proactive steps to encourage audiences to support the safety of the event
- Limit audience numbers and manage capacity to allow for social distancing
- Make sure they are are familiar with the seven Inclusive Principles for Arts and Cultural organisations
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Customer demand ahead of the theatre sector comeback
Customer demand ahead of the theatre sector’s return is sky high. The theatre has always been a popular British pastime - the annual London theatre audience reached a cumulative total of 15.3 million in 2019 [Society of London Theatre]. Now, after so long away, many can’t wait to get back in the stalls. For the theatre sector, meeting that demand will be the next and biggest hurdle.
In March 2020, many theatres were forced to abruptly close their doors, and very few of them have been allowed to reopen since. Lots of people working in the theatre industry have been made redundant during the pandemic. In August 2020, for example, job losses jumped from 3,000 to 5,000 a month [Bectu]. Financially, many theatres and theatre-focused franchises have a hole to climb out of. There’s been experimentation, there’s been outdoor performance, but there’s been nothing close to the revenue of an average year in theatre.
Things are starting to look up as restrictions ease, and the government recently announced that £257 million was being put towards saving 1,385 theatres, art venues, museums and cultural organisations across England. In 2021, those in the theatre industry are just about beginning to feel tentatively hopeful about the future. And the high customer demand, with many shows sold out far in advance, is definitely driving that hope.
We didn’t have major stars in our shows. [When we were selling tickets for] the Les Misérables concert, I bet Cameron Mackintosh he’d sell out the entire run in 48 hours. I lost that bet, because they sold out in 24 hours! But we didn’t have those big names, so it really meant a lot that we sold so well too. It told us that audiences want to come back.
—Nica Burns, Nimax Theatres
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Theatre sector trends amid the UK reopening
The theatre industry adapted wherever it could during the COVID-19 pandemic, from hosting performances online to holding them at outdoor venues. Some theatre companies will have found their niche in these areas, and will keep up the good work long into the future. Others will be happily returning to the indoor, in-person stage in late 2021, with many big shows having announced their hopeful return, including:
- Anything Goes
- Sister Act
- Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
- Dear Evan Hansen
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
During the pandemic, in which everyone was forced to pause, there was an opportunity to address deeper industry issues and the need for certain systemic changes to occur. As a result, one of the biggest trends in the theatre sector right now is an increased focus on inclusivity and diversity.
It won’t happen overnight but I think one good thing to come out of our theatres being closed for the last year is that there has been a real drive to implement important structural changes. We are finally going to see more communities from different backgrounds being represented not only on stage, but behind the scenes too.
—Iqbal Khan, Box Clever Theatre Company/Birmingham Rep
What government support is still available for businesses in the theatre industry?
Many theatre companies and franchises will still be feeling the impact of the pandemic, particularly in a financial sense. If your business needs help, a range of government support schemes are still on offer, including:
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (open until September 2021)
- The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
- The VAT Deferral New Payment Scheme (open until the 21st June 2021)
- Business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year covering retail, hospitality and leisure companies in England
- The Recovery Loan Scheme
- The Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility
- The Coronavirus Restart Grant
- The Coronavirus Additional Restrictions Grant
- The Local Restrictions Support Grants
Running a theatre business hasn’t been easy during the COVID-19 pandemic
It’s not been an easy year, but with the public just as desperate as the sector to get the lights back on, theatres will be packed out with people as soon as they’re able to be. If you’re interested in investing in a theatre franchise, it’s a great time to get on board, and plenty of opportunities are available, especially in theatre education, where you could make a real difference and turn a solid profit.
Lily Sweeney, Point Franchise ©