Actress Liz Carr has called for more theaters to consider hosting separate performances for audiences who still want to wear face masks or socially distance – and others agree it’s a great idea.
Carr won best supporting actress at Sunday night’s Oliviers for her role in The Normal Heart.
Wearing face coverings indoors is no longer mandatory, which is why Carr suggests venues could offer “Covid-safer” performances.
“Theatre should remain accessible even to those of us who have health conditions,” she told BBC News. “If I’d had a five-minute speech, I would’ve talked about how I haven’t been to the theater in over two years. This is a frightening night for me.”
If you’ve been to a theater recently you’ll have (probably) noticed a lack of masks, but continuing to wear them despite the relaxation in rules could make a big difference.
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy for Covid, says people should very much still be wearing face masks in indoor public settings, regardless of official government guidance.
Dr Nabarro told Sky News: “It is absolutely not a good idea when cases are as high as they are, when the virus is moving as rapidly as it is, for the restrictions that we’ve all applied so carefully to be dropped.”
Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, previously told HuffPost UK: “Masks dramatically reduce transmission, though they don’t stop it entirely.”
As well as protecting other people, multiple studies suggest face coverings also offer some protection to the wearer. Data from the Office for National Statistics suggests people who don’t wear face coverings in confined spaces are one and a half times more likely to test positive for coronavirus than those who use a mask.
So, should we start introducing mask-only spaces?
Michaela Hollywood, a 31-year old disability rights activist from County Down, Northern Ireland, says “yes”.
Hollywood loves going to theatre, and her sister – who is also disabled and a wheelchair user – is a performer. “In many ways I was a stage door kid listening to rehearsals. It gave me a fond love of theater and I would go to shows every chance I get,” she says.
However, Hollywood hasn’t been to theater since late 2019. “I’ve been actively considering it now that antivirals are available for my condition in the UK should I catch Covid, but with the removal of the need to isolate in Northern Ireland, I’m feeling a bit apprehensive and haven’t made the call yet,” she says.
If people would wear masks in the theatre, Hollywood says she wouldn’t feel “barred from that space”.
“Theatre in my experience is an inclusive world, where everyone is family – including the audience,” she says. “Wearing masks when you can is protecting that family. I know some people can’t wear them, and that’s okay. What I want is a safe space for both sets of audience where we can enjoy theater again.”
While some on social media have raised concerns about the financial implications for theaters if they introduce mask-only performances, many others have shown support for the idea, saying they’d welcome mask-only hours in theatres, cinemas, supermarkets and beyond.