Reopen our open-air theatres

  We add our name to the list of organisations asking the UK Government to prioritise the early opening of outdoor performance venues

4 minute read

This week, on Monday 15 February, we joined 70 arts organisations and theatres across the UK in lending our support to an open letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, as part of a campaign for the early reopening of open-air performing arts venues.

The Coalition for Open Air Theatre and Out To Perform have joined forces to persuade the UK Government to prioritise the early opening of the Covid-safest part of the performing arts: the small-scale outdoor performing sector, which presents the best opportunity to spearhead a cultural revival for 2021.

A blue sky over the pointed roof of a timber structure theatre.

We’ve lent our support to an open letter calling for the early reopening of open-air theatres, including our Globe Theatre. Photographer: John Wildgoose

The return of live outdoor performances on 11 July 2020 saw an estimated 500,000 people able to experience the joy of live performance once more. It generated around £7 million in revenue for venues who had been forced to shut since March 2020. Furthermore, it supported both creative and hospitality jobs – many of whom had not been able to work for four months.

Unfortunately, we were not able to join many of our friends across the industry in reopening last summer, due to the combination of considerably reduced audience numbers with social distancing, late notice about the reopening out of lockdown, and at the time, no news on our application for financial support from the Culture Recovery Fund (which we have since been awarded a very welcome lifeline grant of £3 million).

Neil Constable, Patrick Spottiswoode and Michelle Terry in the Globe Theatre

Chief Executive Neil Constable, former Director of Education Patrick Spottiswoode, and Artistic Director Michelle Terry in the Globe Theatre the day we announced our doors were officially closing on 18 March 2020.

‘We want to make that financial commitment to bring freelancers back into the building and get productions ready. When we closed last March, we had to terminate 180 freelance contracts. It’s been really tough for all those people out of work’

— Neil Constable, CEO Shakespeare’s Globe

Now we’re looking ahead to this spring and summer – we know audiences are willing to attend open-air performances in all seasons and weather (we’ve all experienced being soaked to the skin during a rather wet show at the Globe!) and we’re eager to reopen the doors to our wooden ‘O’, to continue sharing Shakespeare’s stories, as soon as it is safe to do so.

A women smiling and resting on the Globe stage

Audiences join together in the Yard of the Globe Theatre to enjoy a show pre-pandemic (2018). Photographer: Clive Sherlock


‘If we can commit to outdoor performances, it would be the first part of our cultural re-emergence. People need that opportunity to see live performance, and to be back in an environment they trust, with others, being engaged and entertained’

— Neil Constable, CEO Shakespeare’s Globe

With the right safety measures in place, outdoor performances should be able to go ahead. A smaller capacity and controlled seating mean social distancing can easily be managed between household bubbles, and outdoor Covid-19 transmission rates are much lower.

Our Chair of the Board, Margaret Casely-Hayford, appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight programme last week, to discuss the dynamism of outdoor theatre.

‘There is so much opportunity here. Theatre in the open is more dynamic, is more democratic. We’ve had a large amount of engagement online, from audiences that wouldn’t generally go to the theatre quite as frequently – or even at all – and so all of those people can now come in thinking, “Well, I’ve seen that on screen and it was so much more engaging than I thought it would be”’

— Margaret Casely-Hayford, Chair of Shakespeare’s Globe

Lockdown has provided us with the opportunity to see things differently – much of our work has moved online, allowing audiences from all around the world to experience Shakespeare and theatre from their very own homes, and offer audiences who would not necessarily engage with the Bard a taste of what to expect.

As well as welcoming back to our theatres our incredible audiences who have supported us during this unprecedented time, we’re keen to introduce and welcome new audiences to Shakespeare – and outdoor theatre is the way to do so. Open spaces can remove barriers to engagement, they can feel more accessible, relaxed. An open, outdoor environment can make the first initial step into experiencing theatre a little less daunting.

We know watching a show at the Globe in the open-air is an exciting and exhilarating experience. Our Globe Theatre is at mercy to the elements, with the weather often acting as another character in the play – whether it’s thunderstorms striking during the opening shipwreck in The Tempest or the sun shining down on King Henry during his St Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V – it can entirely influence the atmosphere of how a play is brought to life on stage.

An outdoor stage of an open air theatre

We can’t wait to welcome our supporters, as well as new audiences, into our wooden ‘O’ to experience Shakespeare once more. Photographer: Helen Murray

It is important to get theatres open again as soon as possible. We are major economic drivers for the UK. We want to be safely open to bring joy, wonder and entertainment to people’s lives once more.