Are Covid-safe theatres really safe in NSW?
Mask-wearing and crowd management rules vary from venue to venue – and are difficult to enforce. Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA.

Elissa Blake, ‘Half masks’, packed foyers and bar queues: are Covid-safe theatres really safe?, The Guardian, 1 January 2021

Sydney Opera House has become the latest to mandate mask-wearing – but even with safety measures in place, going to the theatre carries ‘an incredible risk’

When the Sydney Opera House tightened its Covid-safe policy on Thursday, making masks mandatory inside all foyers and theatres, it became one of the last major venues in Sydney to do so.

The new rule applies from Saturday 2 January, coinciding with the opening nights of two major productions: Rent, at the Drama theatre, with a reduced audience of around 400; and Opera Australia’s The Merry Widow, at the Joan Sutherland, with a 75% capacity of 1,100.

Mask-wearing will now be required for patrons over 12, as the venue “continues to closely monitor NSW Health guidelines” and adjust their own policies in order to keep “everyone on our site” safe, a spokesperson says.

After a year of devastating cancellations and closures, the industry is eager for audiences to return: as Opera Australia’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini says: “We’ve been out of the Opera House for 10 months – that’s a long time.”

But even when masks are mandated, is going to a Covid-safe theatre really Covid-safe?

‘An incredible risk’

This week, NSW state premier Gladys Berejiklian has used each daily press conference to strongly encourage the public to wear masks – but unlike Victoria, the state has so far resisted pressure from epidemiologists and the Australian Medical Association to mandate it. In theatres and cinemas, masks are “strongly recommended” by NSW Health – but they are not mandatory by law.