An outdoor production of Jesus Christ Superstar has been abandoned after health officials said the performers must wear masks.
The Bev Jones Music Company had planned to stage the musical at York’s Rowntree Park amphitheatre next weekend (12 and 13 of June).
But City of York Council demands – including the masks ruling – meant that they have had to scrap the production completely.
This is despite the fact the event had been given the go ahead back in February.
Lesley Jones, of the Bev Jones Music Company, found out that York’s Safety Advisory Group had contacted Public Health England about her production.
“I was safe in the knowledge that I knew I’d carried out everything I carried out last year. So I had absolutely no qualms, she said.”
Last September the Bev Jones Music Company successfully staged a night of music titled Strictly In The Park, also at Rowntree Park, to a socially-distanced audience.
But then Lesley received further communication from the council.
‘No option’ over masks
She was told that when singing you create more than an aerosol spray, and therefore the council said they had “no option” but to ask the cast to sing in masks.
Lesley questioned how a musical production could go ahead when the performers are restricted, saying: “It’s about the singing, it’s about the music.”
She said the council went on to say that because the show was taking place in a park, a crowd would gather and want to “break in” without tickets. It was “insisted” that a professional security team were put in place to surround the theatre, and extra toilets in the park were also insisted to be brought in.
At Strictly in the Park, Lesley had a team of stewards and one professional security member. When she asked if she could repeat this for Jesus Christ Superstar she was told no.
“They just quashed me,” she said. “Absolutely quashed me. There was no viable way.”
“Especially with a non-capacity crowd paying for this, you can’t sustain any viability in music productions. They’re not cheap.
“With 50% capacity, which is what was insisted upon, you’re struggling anyway. But then to be told you have to spend thousands on toilets and professional security. That was me finished.”
Lesley pays for the productions herself.
Lesley completely agrees that health must come first, but the cast were taking every precaution with daily lateral flow tests and temperature checks.
“It’s heartbreaking, is the word the cast are all using. Absolutely heartbreaking.”
“I have to abide by the rules. What can I do?”
Lesley said that some council members have been very helpful, but that the decisions were out of their hands.
“If they’d just told us three months ago, not three weeks before we actually open.”
Lesley wants to stage more productions in the future, but worries about the financial loss if more lockdowns happen. “How many risks can you take?
“How sad if my own council was the one thing that forced me to close, for good.”
Yesterday, York’s Museums Trust announced a summer spectacular event in the Museums Gardens that features live music.
The event is due to take place just a week after Jesus Christ Superstar was scheduled to perform.
What the council says
Sharon Stoltz, director of Public Health at the council, said: “As with all events for York, the safety of our residents and visitors is always our primary concern.
“When approached by event organisers we have shared feedback based upon national guidance.
“This includes planning for multiple eventualities, as has always been the case, and ensuring you have adequate plans in place for provide a safe environment for those attending your event.
“National guidance changes on a regular basis, and it’s not possible to make comparisons to previous years as the situation is very different.
“We can only share the guidance as it relates to the current situation, which is what we have done on this occasion.
“It is the decision of event organisers whether they are able to provide adequate covid-security measures or not.”