Sydney festival, Rent and The Merry Widow – all set to open in Sydney in the next seven days – are holding their breath, after New South Wales recorded 18 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases and some restrictions were tightened on Wednesday.
The state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced new limits for greater Sydney on visitors to people’s homes to five (including children), and reduced outdoor gathering limits from 50 to 30. But she made no announcements about indoor cultural events that currently have authority to go ahead.
Sydney Opera House’s production of Rent is due to open on Saturday 2 January to around 400 people – or 75% of the Drama Theatre capacity. Unlike other major performance venues in Sydney, masks are still not mandatory at the Sydney Opera House but are “strongly recommended”.
Opera Australia’s production of The Merry Widow opens at the venue’s Joan Sutherland Theatre on 5 January. The production is also proceeding under Sydney Opera House guidelines, with “checkerboard”-style seating for up to 1,125 guests – or 75% of its capacity.
Artistic director Lyndon Terracini told Guardian Australia that when The Merry Widow opens, Opera Australia “will be the only opera company in the world performing to a live audience”.
“What’s happening in the rest of the world – particularly in Europe is shocking,” he continued. “But we have to be confident. We’ve been out of the Opera House for 10 months, that’s a long time.”
It is SO good to be back rehearsing in the Sydney Opera House after a COVID absence of nearly 10 months. Our opening night of The Merry Widow is on January 5. We will have a live audience;75% of the house! It will be a great night!
— Lyndon Terracini (@LyndonTerracini) December 29, 2020
Due to open on 6 January, Sydney festival’s outdoor Headland stage at Barangaroo hopes to host up to 1,500 socially distanced guests for every performance. Artistic director Wesley Enoch is eyeing the rise in cases. “It’s useful not to panic,” he told Guardian Australia. “We’ve been training for this all year … every time something shifts or changes, we’ve got something ready to go.”
The stage – which is set to host performances including The [Uncertain] Four Seasons, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s landmark retrospective Spirit and Paul Mac’s The Rise and Fall of Saint George – plans to operate under social distancing guidelines. “We have exemptions from the health orders because it’s a restricted outdoor venue with seats,” Enoch says. “It’s very different from having a large group of people mingling at a barbecue.”
Enoch added: “I have faith that contact tracing is good and when things break out the state gets on to it.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Disney’s Frozen was set to go ahead with all scheduled performances, as was Pippin at the Lyric Theatre and Magic Mike Live in the Entertainment Quarter. Belvoir’s My Brilliant Career was also playing as advertised. All are playing with the potential for at least 75% houses; masks are mandatory at all shows except Magic Mike, during which food and drink is served.
Sydney Theatre Company plans to go ahead with performances of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is currently on a break but resumes – with masks mandatory – from 2–9 January. “We will continue to closely monitor the evolving situation and will notify ticket holders with any changes,” a spokesperson said.
As part of its investigation into the source of a positive Covid-19 case from Wollongong, NSW Health has asked diners and staff who attended Buckley’s craft beer bar on the Opera House promenade on 17 December between 7.30pm and 9pm to be tested immediately and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Anyone who attended the Sydney OpenAir Cinema’s screening of Prom on Thursday 17 December has also been advised to get tested. The cinema’s program is currently suspended.
The Sydney cricket Test is still going ahead on 7 January at 50% seating capacity, which is around 24,000 people. When asked why an outdoor cinema was deemed less safe than an outdoor cricket match, Berejiklian said the state government was taking a “precautionary response”.
“We do not know exactly whether that activity at the outdoor cinema was a place of concern, but as a precaution is the best advice we have,” she said.