When the Queensland Performing Arts Centre announced last November that it was staging Shrek the Musical in January, the show was to have been the first major musical to open in Australia to a 100 percent capacity audience, without a special exemption required, since COVID-19 closed venues in March 2020. (Pippin and Frozen, the first two major musicals to open in Australia after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, have had a special exemption to play to 75 percent capacity in Sydney).

Shrek the Musical. Photograph © Brian Geach

Shrek was to have opened in Brisbane on Sunday 10 January after two previews the day before, but all the performances at QPAC had to be cancelled that weekend due to the three-day lockdown announced by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on 8 January.

In good news, there were zero cases of community transmission during the three-day lockdown and so the Centre has reopened, with Shrek the Musical due to play from 14 January. However, the seating capacity will be reduced from 100 percent to 50 percent at least for the first week.

A statement issued by QPAC yesterday said: “Following today’s announcement by the Queensland Premier of temporary heightening of safety restrictions, QPAC will operate at 50% capacity until 22 January. This will impact on QPAC performances that have already been sold at 100% capacity and we are currently assessing the best options for our patrons and artists, going forward. We will be in touch directly with patrons who have booked to performances during this period, giving priority to this week’s performances. We thank our patrons for their support and patience at this time.”

Changes to performance schedules are inevitable, at least until vaccines for COVID-19 are widely introduced.

In response to recent cases of the coronavirus in Sydney, including the Northern Beaches cluster, Sydney Festival was forced to cancel three of its acts just days before the Festival opened. The world premiere of The Pulse by acclaimed Australian circus company Gravity & Other Myths – a festival highlight featuring 30 acrobats and 30 choristers, which was to have opened The Headland program on the pop-up outdoor stage on Barangaroo Reserve on 6 January – had to be cancelled when the company was unable to travel to Sydney after South Australia shut its border to NSW.

The Headland at Barangaroo will instead open tonight with Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s The [Uncertain] Four Seasons, while The Pulse is now scheduled to have its world premiere at the Adelaide Festival instead.

The two other Sydney Festival shows cancelled were the world premiere of Hide the Dog, a play by Tasmanian playwright Nathan Maynard, which was to have been presented by Tasmania Performs, and the concert at Vaucluse House on 10 January by Brisbane’s Orava Quartet.

Sydney Festival’s indoor shows are currently operating at 50 percent capacity, with patrons aged 13 and older required to wear masks in line with NSW Government regulations. However, audience members often find themselves sitting next to people they don’t know rather than there being empty seats between each booking.

Meanwhile, the wearing of masks became compulsory for patrons aged 12 and over at all Sydney Opera House performances from 2 January, with empty spaces between different bookings. As is now the case at all Sydney performance venues, patrons are required to sign in with the Service NSW App, and wear a mask the entire time they are in the foyer and auditorium.

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