After going dark for nearly three months, the country’s theatres, performing arts centres and live event spaces alongside cinemas will finally be allowed to reopen from July 1.
Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob made this announcement at his press conference today, stressing that only a maximum of 250 people will be allowed to be in these spaces, subject to the size of the hall.
He also advised the venue operators to adhere to the public health guidelines provided by the government to ensure the safety of the patrons.
This news was welcomed positively by many Malaysian performing arts venue operators.
“We are excited to be opening our doors again. We believe that the arts are foundational in providing joy and escapism for many people, making it especially vital now during a pandemic," says Datin Jane Lew Siew Ting, founder of the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Petaling Jaya.
“We're also glad that this means all arts practitioners will be able to resume work. However, the health and safety of our patrons and the community is a priority, and we will be strictly adhering to the guidelines released by the ministry, ” she adds.
Joe Hasham, the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre’s (KLPac) co-founder and artistic director says the decision to reopen will help a lot in helping the venue's planning for the year.
“The news could not have come at a more opportune time as we have just reviewed our financials. KLPac, The Actors Studio and PenangPac are bleeding dry," says Hasham, who has worked tirelessly with the KLPac team to raise funds through the #SaveYourSeat campaign and other smaller initiatives to keep the venue afloat.
“It has been a dark and long three months and though we are not at the end of the tunnel, we do see a glimmer of light with the lifting of the restrictions on live events, ” he adds.
According to Hasham, some measures which are already in place at KLPac include health screening prior to entering the building, physical distancing measures with queue markers as well as increased sanitisation and disinfection.
“We are also making way for a contactless experience for patrons with e-ticket and e-wallet facilities, stepping up visitor education on our SOP and good practices as well as staff training, ” he continues.
He adds that KLPac plans to reopen with music concert Yesterday Once More 3, a show that was supposed to take place on the week the MCO was first announced.
PenangPac company manager Alexander Ooi does not foresee any difficulties with carrying out operations in accordance with SOP, adding that PenangPac is already prepared to do so.
For safety, the venue will only be offering 106 seats in its Stage 1, which normally accommodates 303 seats, and 36 seats in Stage 2, which normally sits 120.
“We conducted a survey in May where we collected suggestions from the public on what makes them feel safe coming back to the theatre," says Fa Abdul, PenangPac's publicity manager.
“We will be implementing some of the suggestions in order to gain public trust such as a public display of sanitisation processes and schedules at the venue and an efficient waste disposal system. Our focus is to ensure our patron's safety and comfort, ” she adds.
Regaining public confidence that theatre is a safe space, with all the SOPs in place, will be a challenge for venues big and small.
“What’s important also is to come up with a proper marketing strategy to get people to come back and support the arts scene. We believe the scene would be much appreciated after this pandemic, ” says Fazleena Hishamuddin, the manager of indie arts space Serambi Karya Bellamy in KL.
For Christopher Ling, artistic director of collective theatrethreesixty, the reopening of theatres marks the beginning of a new chapter in Malaysian theatre history.
"As venues both large and small prepare to welcome back beloved audiences nationwide, we can only guess what 'socially distanced, SOP-compliant theatre is going to look and feel like," says Ling.
The theatrethreesixty collective runs Lot'ng, a performance space in USJ, Subang Jaya. Normally, the space can accommodate 40 people, but it will now be open to 14 people to follow social distancing measures.
"It is time for us as a community to activate our hallmark resilience, embrace change and move forward, all the while resolute that the show must, and will, go on," he says.
However, PJ Live Arts’ arts manager Diong Chae Lian has decided to take the news with a pinch of salt.
PJ Live Arts in Jaya One, known for its stand up comedy shows, children’s theatre and international acts, has already turned its space into a dinner theatre venue. PJLA can fit a maximum of 450 people. Now, in compliance with social distancing and other public health and safety guidelines, that number has been cut by 70%.
The dinner theatre can accommodate, in its full capacity, 120 seats.
“We’re relieved that we can finally open but are cautious as the reduced capacity will make it challenging for sustainability. The greater concern is whether audiences are ready to return,” says Diong.
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