It was back in April when I first heard First Minister Nicola Sturgeon use the phrase “baby steps” to describe Scotland’s strategy for emerging from lockdown.
Four months after the previously booming live-events sector was forced to shut down, it has finally been given permission to make the first moves towards a comeback. This week’s announcement of official approval for live performances to be staged at drive-in events took me somewhat by surprise.
I was under the impression they had already been sanctioned given the number which have been announced and the reopening date for cinemas last week. Crucially, the government is not only officially endorsing the idea of live performance at drive-ins, but is also encouraging them as a potential “lifeline” for the sector. But how appealing are they for organisers and audiences?
The Scottish Government’s official approval for drive-ins featuring music, theatre, comedy and even bingo emerged less than a week after Britain’s biggest event promoter, Live Nation, pulled the plug on live music and theatres shows which were supposed to happen across the UK, including a full programme at the Royal Highland Showground in Edinburgh next month. The company blamed the prospect of the tour being affected by “local lockdowns” for its decision, amid reports that ticket sales had not matched expectations.
The Glasgow Film Festival and Electric Frog had already relocated their movie and music drive-in event from the Riverside Museum to Glasgow Airport before it too was cancelled, with the latest regulations over drive-in events said to have made the event financially unviable.
The launch of a series of drive-in movie screenings at Edinburgh Airport have also been put back by several weeks, until after the school holidays are over, due to the logistical challenge of putting on the event, which is still planned to be a monthly fixture if the first one is successful enough. Another venture, The Parking Lot Social, featuring music, comedy, film screenings and bingo, is due to be launched at Dalkeith Country Park next month before touring around Scotland.
I would imagine there will be a fresh flurry of announcements on the back of the official seal of approval for drive-in events in Scotland. But there are several reasons why they should not be seen as any kind of semi-permanent replacement for tried-and-tested event formats.
It would seem the only way to make a drive-in series viable would be to stage an extended series of events in the hope of being able to recoup the cost of equipment and other infrastructure via ticket sales.
But how much public appetite is really out there for a drive-in event given the extent to which people have been cooped up at home in recent months? Will families who have relished walking or cycling on deserted roads during lockdown suddenly be inclined to squeeze into a car for a day or night out, especially given the relative return to normality for cafes, bars and restaurants.
Have the coronavirus restrictions really dispelled concerns about the climate crisis and the need for major events to be much more sustainable, huge issues that the Edinburgh festivals were grappling with before this summer? The government has left the door open for some outdoor events after the next review at the end of this month – a potentially crucial lifeline for companies usually involved in the Fringe.
The question is whether the government will be just as enthusiastic about encouraging safe, socially distanced events in open-air environments for people to walk, cycle or take public transport to?
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