COVID-19: Performing

We are currently updating this advice following announcements from all four nations on new COVID-19 restrictions on 22 September. We will be looking at new measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and how they affect performing music. Check our Twitter and Facebook pages for announcements of new updates.

We provide below guidance on the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in relation to performing in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

We will continue to update this page as developments arise. Each of the four nations of the UK has its own powers to tackle the pandemic, including the power to restrict activities or to release them in accordance with a timetable of its own devising. As we have seen, each administration has taken different paths and set different timescales, which explains why the lockdown restrictions in England have been eased more quickly than in the other nations.


Last updated 28 September 2020

The UK government guidance for the performing arts in England published in July 2020 sets out its road map for bringing back live performance safely in England, and comprises five stages:

Stage one: Rehearsal and training (no audiences)
Stage two
: Performances for broadcast and recording purposes
Stage three
: Performances outdoors with an audience and pilots for indoor performances with a limited socially distanced audience
Stage four
: Performances allowed indoors and outdoors (but with a limited socially distanced audience indoors)
Stage five
: Performances allowed indoors / outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)

Where are we now?

Since 15 August, we are at stage four. This means that socially distanced indoor and outdoor performances can take place in line with updated guidance from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) released on 13 August.

No fixed date for the return of full indoor live performances (stage five) has been announced. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden stated that he would not be able to give a date for stage five until November 2020 'at the earliest'.

What does this mean for live performance in England?

Performing arts including theatre, opera, dance and music presented outdoors with a limited and socially distanced audience present were permitted to resume on 11 July.

From 15 August, this was extended to include performances taking place indoors as well.

The government has made a significant change in relation to singing, and playing brass and woodwind.

Additional mitigations previously required in view of concerns of higher transmission risks have been lifted. DCMS states that it 'commissioned further scientific studies to be carried out to develop the scientific evidence on these activities, which has allowed us to reconsider appropriate mitigations'.

This is welcome news, but it does come with a caveat. The guidance states that '…these studies have indicated that it is the cumulative aerosol transmission from both those performing in and attending events that is likely to create risk. We are continuing to develop more detailed understanding of how to mitigate this potential aggregate risk…'.

In the meantime, government advice is to follow the various steps described in the introduction to the amended guidance in order to minimise risk.

We will report further on any developments as they arise. There are also a number of inconsistencies in the latest guidance, and as always we are seeking clarifications from the government.

The overall position currently appears to be as follows:

  • Rehearsal and performance can take place indoors and outdoors from 15 August 2020.
  • Social distancing must be maintained wherever possible during rehearsal and performance.
  • Both professionals and non-professionals can now engage in singing and playing wind and brass.
  • Professional choirs, brass bands and other ensembles and bands can rehearse and perform provided the DCMS guidance is followed.
  • Non-professional equivalents must follow the rules in the government guidance on meeting people from outside your household.
  • For the time being nightclubs remain closed to the public and no performances can therefore take place in these venues yet.
  • From 28 September, musicians must wear a face mask inside a venue when not rehearsing or performing.

Northern Ireland

Last updated 17 September 2020

On 5 August Arts Council of Northern Ireland published a guidance manual, providing practical measures to support the safe reopening of arts performance venues in Northern Ireland. It includes guidance on performing, singing and playing wind and brass instruments, touring, cleaning and the opening of venues.

The guidance sets out the protocols, adjustments and equipment that will be required by venues to maintain social distancing and protect the health and wellbeing of audiences, performers, staff and participants. It covers all aspects of reopening, including risk assessments, staff training, capacity considerations and special provisions, so that audiences can be reassured that all the appropriate measures are in place and the environment they are entering is safe.

There is also a special section within the manual, ‘Creating Work’, which offers guidance for organisations, arts groups, individual practitioners and everyone engaged within the arts in taking those important steps back into working together safely to present public performances.

Northern Ireland is currently at Step 3 and they are awaiting a date for concert and theatre rehearsals resuming. The guide will help venues prepare safely for this stage, and reopening when next steps for theatres, art centres and venues are announced.

The BBC summarised what’s in the guidance.

Venues are advised to adopt measures like social distancing, enhanced cleaning, one-way signs and hand sanitisers similar to other workplaces.

They will also keep records of anyone entering for 21 days to assist with contact tracing.

Venues will also have to consider whether audiences will have to wear masks or face coverings when they reopen - as they are "enclosed public spaces".

Venues will also decide if they need to introduce temperature checks for staff or audiences, although this is not mandatory.

The guidance also said that when venues reopen performances may need to be 'shorter, fewer, oftener, safer'.

Other measures may include:

  • Removing seats to create audience 'pods'
  • Smaller productions like one-person drama shows
  • Shorter performances in alternative venues and more outdoor performances, using spaces like bandstands
  • Holding more performances online

Theatres and other venues will have to reduce the number of people they can admit to ensure social distancing.

Members of the audience may only be able to sit together if they are from the same household or support bubble, for example.

You can also read the relaxation of regulation recovery plan and the Department for Communities report on guidance for a phased return of culture and heritage destination venues, which includes advice on how theatres and arts centres will operate.


Last updated 1 October 2020

Scotland remains in phase 3 of its route map out of lockdown.

Despite the restrictions on social gathering introduced by the Scottish government on the 22 September, live outdoor events are still permitted subject to physical distancing, enhanced hygiene measures and adherence to the guidance for the performing arts and venues.

Indoor live events including music before a live audience are still not permitted in Scotland. They may possibly resume on 5 October though this date is still indicative and may change. Please visit our website and check our social media channels regularly for updates. When indoor live events can resume, it is likely that restrictions will apply.

Please note that localised restrictions may apply to your area
: do check.

What you can do

  • Professional musicians are not affected by the latest changes to social gathering (the 'rule of six'), imposed from 22 September. Therefore professional musicians may sing or play in groups outdoors and indoors (subject to the conditions set out in the guidance for the performing arts and venues).
  • Non-professional musicians may sing or play outdoors, but group size should be limited to that permitted by social gathering guidance (Staying safe and protecting others) ie from a maximum of six people from two households in outdoor spaces. You must maintain a 2m distance and abide by any local restrictions.
  • There is an exception for non-professional music groups (including singing and wind and brass instrumentalists) participating in an organised outdoor activity managed by an organisation - including a business, charity or club. In this case, according to the guidance (Staying safe and protecting others) the 'rule of six' would not apply, meaning that (within an organised activity outdoors) non-professionals can meet in groups of more than six. But organisers must comply with 2 metre physical distancing, hygiene measures, risk assessment processes and all other relevant guidance for the performing arts sector including events guidance.

Please also see the 'Playing Music' section of the guidance for the performing arts and venues for further information on steps needed whether working indoors or outdoors.


Last updated 17 September 2020

Theatres and concert halls remain closed in Wales. Some pilots are taking place to test the viability of large scale outdoor events.

On 15 September, the Welsh Government published Rehearsing, performing and taking part in the performing arts: guidance for a phased return.

They describe the information as ‘a framework for decision‑making rather than a set of rules to follow.’ It is made clear that this guidance only applies to ‘activities permitted by government regulations’ and that ‘resuming activity can only be possible within the context of the COVID‑19 regulations that apply at the time.’ It is intended that this guidance will be kept updated as the situation develops, so this is likely to change.

Individual legal advice

If you are an ISM member, you can seek advice from our legal team on your personal situation by contacting [email protected].

Risk Assessment

We have put together some advice on writing and sharing a risk assessment, plus a sample risk assessment document for members, designed to help you in the process of writing your own risk assessment during COVID-19.