Vaccine Passports and Theatre

By Robbie Tamblyn

After almost a two-year pause of live entertainment across the continent, playhouses, concert halls, theatres and other auditoriums have opened their doors to the public again. However, since Wednesday, September 22nd, the COVID-19 vaccine passport system has been in effect in Ontario, requiring people to show proof of their vaccination for entry into thousands of non-essential venues across Ontario. Theatres, cinemas and entertainment centres are among the many locations where staff must ask patrons to show proof that they’ve received two doses of an approved vaccine at least two weeks before entry, along with identification that matches their verification document.

The provincial Government’s decision, which follows similar ones in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia, along with other G7 Countries, aligns with the internal policies of Ontario theatre companies, such as Crow’s Theatre and Mirvish Productions in Toronto. This decision has been supported by the majority of theatregoers as well. Brett Christopher, who works as the managing artistic director of Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ontario, had said that the playhouse has yet to receive any pushback from patrons to the change in policy. He also said that checking vaccine receipts at the door won’t be much of an additional burden for TIP’s front-of-house staff, either.

The theatre company is only allowing 50 people in the audience for this season. “It’s a fairly small number, and we’re already vetting them with COVID questioning when they arrive,” he says. Cameron Bailey, the Artistic Director & Co-Head of the Toronto International Film Festival, also fully supported the Government’s decision. “We have relied on the municipal and provincial medical direction and advice on rapid testing, and we expect this will provide another level of clarity and comfort for all 2021 festival-goers.”

However, some other entertainment venues have had reactions on the opposite side of the spectrum than those favouring the new mandate. Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns, a bar and concert hall in London, UK, threatened to take legal action against the Government over the vaccine requirement in entertainment centres as discriminatory against the young. In addition, Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of Hospitality UK, said the Government would take legal action if it excluded theatres where people mixed but required it in other smaller live venues. “It’s potentially discriminatory against a younger age demographic and an industry sector,” she said. Ms. Nicholls warned it could cut customers by 20 percent. “There is a substantial proportion of people who don’t want to use passports or are not vaccinated. It has settled at 20 percent in France. We expect something similar here,” she said.

Jon Morgan, the director of the’ Theatres Trust’ playhouse, said he would instead not use Covid certificates, but consider it a temporary measure as a step towards normality. “As we await the results of the planned events research program, it is still too early to say whether Covid certification can play a meaningful role in aiding theatres to reopen without social distancing,” he said. “It would be preferable if full reopening could be achieved without the use of vaccine certification. However, if it were to be used, it would only need to be a temporary measure as a step to normalization and to be as broad and as non-discriminatory as possible. This includes both testing and proof of immunity alongside proof of vaccine.”