Theatre producer Torben Brookman, whose season of School of Rock just finished in Sydney, criticised the government for failing to consult the arts sector before announcing the indefinite ban.
“It just feels like a knee-jerk response to me,” he said. “I don’t accept it’s been done in a manner that’s completely thought through.
“It feels strange to say it’s still safe to go on the train and the supermarket but not the theatre.”
Mr Brookman said his cast and crew are “distressed” at the prospect of not having work, with casual or contract employees such as ushers, security and bar staff “out of jobs for the foreseeable future”.
“What needs to be made clear to government of every level is this will absolutely decimate an industry people look to for support in times of hardship.”
In a media release issued by Arts Minister Paul Fletcher’s office on Monday, it was stressed that the government “understands” the impact coronavirus will have on the sector.
Mr Fletcher said, “Given the significance of the cultural and creative sector – both economically and culturally – it is important we work together on a constructive approach to preparing for potential impacts and fully understanding the support available”. On Tuesday Mr Fletcher will host a teleconference with peak industry bodies to discuss “the impacts of COVID-19” and support strategies.
On Monday Opera Australia warned it may have to sell one of its venues to avoid bankruptcy as it cancelled its flagship Opera on the Harbour event. Billy Elliot The Musical also announced it would close its Melbourne season, due to finish April 19, ahead of schedule.
The Bluesfest music festival in Byron Bay was another event to fall victim to coronavirus – the annual event was due to celebrate its 31st year over the Easter weekend with headline acts including Crowded House, Patti Smith and The Cat Empire.
“We are heartbroken as we believe we were presenting one of the best-ever bills of talent for you,” festival boss Peter Noble said.
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney has also been cancelled. With many of the festival’s guests coming from overseas, they would have been required to self-isolate for two weeks prior to speaking.
Melbourne Theatre Company has also cancelled the remaining performances of Benjamin Law’s Torch the Place and its more recent play Emerald City. In a statement, the company said the cancellations were disappointing but necessary to help reduce COVID-19 transmissions.
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has also cancelled all concerts until mid-April. However, the company has said it plans to stream some performances on YouTube free of charge. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has announced it will not perform for at least 30 days.
The producers of Shrek The Musical, which opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre last month, are yet to announce the future of their production.
The Sydney Opera House is yet to say if it will shut down temporarily, and the Sydney Theatre Company is still selling tickets to its shows.
The mandatory shutdown could be a boon for Sydney’s smaller theatres like the Belvoir St Theatre in Surry Hills, which is remaining open since its 330-seat capacity falls below the government threshold of 500 people.
The Art Gallery of NSW and the Powerhouse Museum will both remain open, although all public programs have been suspended until April. The Museum of Contemporary Art will also remain open “until further notice”, although a spokeswoman said the gallery had been “quieter than usual”.
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald