The latest wave of COVID-19 has caused so much physical and financial damage to the performing arts in Japan that some insiders fear the industry may cease to exist.
The number of virus-related stage performance cancellations soared in July, and the situation has not improved this month.
Organizers of canceled shows are struggling to receive compensation for losses incurred under the existing relief setup.
The grim situation was described at a symposium held on August 1 by the Japan Performing Arts Solidarity Network.
“We also had to reschedule the opening day of the August performance as some of us tested positive for COVID-19 during rehearsal,” a band member said.
Another said: ‘We are becoming a weak industry as the costs of stage performances increase.’
The network is made up of more than 240 promoters, production companies and theater companies.
In July, the group said, a total of 676 performances of 128 shows were canceled, about 4.7 times the monthly average for the period between January and June.
Artists don’t usually wear face masks on stage, so they use other measures, such as performing COVID-19 tests, to prevent themselves from spreading the virus among their colleagues.
However, the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the country. And positive test results are on the rise in the performing arts industry.
Tatsuya Ito, head of the secretariat of the Japan Performing Arts Solidarity Network, said if someone working for a stage performance tests positive, those in “close contact” will also be tested. And many of them, including asymptomatic people, were found to be infected.
“As a result, the shows are forced to be canceled,” Ito said.
A kabuki show titled “Shichigatsu Okabuki” (The Great July Kabuki) was scheduled to be performed at Tokyo’s Kabukiza Theater from July 19 to 29.
But all performances were canceled after 66 people working for the show tested positive for COVID-19, according to production company Shochiku Co.
Eighteen of them took the tests after feeling unwell. The other 48 tested themselves because they had worked closely with the 18 people.
In the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, some performances of other shows, such as “Lion King” and “Bakemono no Ko (The Boy and the Beast)”, both from Shiki Theater Co., and “Miss Saigon” produced by Toho Co., were canceled in July.
A theater industry insider said infections were also spreading in households and producers were now concerned that actors or staff members could call from home saying they had a fever.
“I’m afraid someone might call me tomorrow morning,” the insider said.
The cost of COVID-19 testing, which is at least several thousand yen per person, has become a financial burden for industry players.
The government has helped performing arts organizers continue their work during the pandemic through initiatives such as the Ministry of Industry’s “J-LOD” program and the “ARTS for the Future!” 2” project of the Cultural Affairs Agency.
However, these government programs will not provide compensation for canceled performances during the seventh wave because the COVID-19 state of emergency is not in place.
The cultural agency program compensates costs incurred as a result of cancellations in certain cases if a canceled performance is rescheduled for dates during that year.
But people in the industry say even booking a venue for a rescheduled date is difficult now because of the pandemic.