Coronavirus: Call to lift restrictions on big events, as industry cites closures


Venues want a specific Government support fund, saying the “endless” changing of alert levels is crippling them and only resulting in further closures.

The Entertainment Venues Association of New Zealand represents more than 120 venues and says the “constant” changing of gathering numbers could no longer be supported.

“We don’t agree that larger events can’t go ahead safely under level 2,” said Mark Gosling, chief executive of Auckland’s Trusts Arena.

“We don’t believe social distancing rules should be the new normal in theatres, venues and at events.

Mark Gosling, chief executive of Auckland's Trusts Arena, says most of the Government's support funding has been put into content creation/production, with venues left “high and dry”.

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Mark Gosling, chief executive of Auckland’s Trusts Arena, says most of the Government’s support funding has been put into content creation/production, with venues left “high and dry”.

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“It’s not feasible to sell every second seat or take out every second row … in most cases, the events cannot be sustained by half the ticket sales,” Gosling said.

Independent theatres through to sports stadiums had been forgotten in the recovery funding put forward to date, Gosling said.

Events took weeks or months to plan, and it was deeply frustrating to keep shifting schedules, he said.

Many venues were “hanging by a thread”. Gosling was aware of association members turning to Givealittle for funding, with others closing altogether.

Wellington’s Hannah Playhouse theatre on Courtenay Place had its lease come to an end in June, with the previous leaseholders deciding not to renew it.

Hannah Playhouse on the corner of Courtenay Place and Cambridge Tce in Wellington has been closed since its lease expired in June.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Hannah Playhouse on the corner of Courtenay Place and Cambridge Tce in Wellington has been closed since its lease expired in June.

The trust which owns the theatre said it was exploring options to safeguard the continuance of the venue, and was working to fulfil that. However, it has been closed since then, with no performances scheduled until further notice. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Gosling said.

Sarah Graham, from Auckland’s Q Theatre, said as it was only partially funded by Auckland Council, it turned to fundraising to keep up with costs. It had been a difficult period, with the theatre gearing to re-open when the city was thrust back into level 3.

“Cultural institutions find themselves in no man’s land [in terms of funding] … [This is] despite arts having a huge place in wellbeing,” Graham said.

Caroline Harvie-Teare, chief executive of Christchurch-based VBase venues, said the event industry could not be collateral damage to the country’s health response.

“Mass gatherings have been the source of a number of significant Covid-19 clusters, so I can understand that these are the last cab off the rank by way of restrictions.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Mark Gosling said of Hannah Playhouse’s closure.​​​​​​

Ross Giblin/Stuff

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Mark Gosling said of Hannah Playhouse’s closure.​​​​​​

“What we need is targeted industry sector support to ensure our survival and recovery. With such volatility and uncertainty and more than just wage costs to consider, targeted support will buy us the time we need to come out the other side.”

Shane Harmon, chief executive of Wellington’s Sky Stadium, said the main frustration was a lack of a roadmap moving forward.

“We would normally have a full calendar of events confirmed for next year. At the moment, we don’t have a single event confirmed past November.”

Many venues which operated autonomously of councils had expensive overheads, and it was not financially sustainable for large venues to host groups of 100 people or less, Harmon said.

Chief executive of Sky Stadium Shane Harmon says even in level 2, hosting events of 100 people or less makes no sense for large venues with huge overheads like stadia.

Rosa Woods/Stuff

Chief executive of Sky Stadium Shane Harmon says even in level 2, hosting events of 100 people or less makes no sense for large venues with huge overheads like stadia.

Gosling said venues were well-versed in health and safety, and were able to implement temperature checks, compulsory mask-wearing and contactless ticketing services.

Most of the Government’s funding had been focussed on content production, but venues themselves had been “left high and dry”, he said. “We need to come up with a new model.”