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Stage lights go off after Seoul orders shutdown

Level 2.5 social distancing rule inflicts performing arts venues to leave two thirds of seats empty

Dec. 6, 2020 - 17:44 By Im Eun-byel
A cinema in central Seoul on Nov. 27. (Yonhap)

As the Seoul capital has gone into a partial lockdown and Korea has decided to raise distancing regulations for the metropolitan area, the lights have gone out at performing art stages and cinemas across the city.

With the South Korean government announcing the Level 2.5 distancing, the second highest notch in the country’s five-tier COVID-19 scheme, performing arts venues will have to leave the two thirds of audience seats empty from Tuesday.

The tight limitations on the audience capacity of performing arts shows will likely lead to cancellation or postponement of many shows, as it would be difficult to create profit under such measures.

The Seoul government on Friday announced the shutdown of stores, theaters and other facilities after 9 p.m. from Saturday, while reducing public transportation service by 30 percent. The new measure also called for a complete closure of state-funded theaters across Seoul, regardless of the hours.

Following the announcement, the Seoul Metropolitan Musical Theater said it will halt its run of “Little Women” at the Sejong Center in central Seoul from Saturday to Dec. 18. A reopening of the show has not been set yet.

The Universal Ballet Company is considering a change in the running schedule of its “The Nutcracker,” initially slated to open on Dec. 18.

Cinemas across Seoul have gone into shut down, too. Though required to close after 9 p.m. as most films run for two hours or more, the last showing of the films have effectively been restricted to before 7 p.m. 

Workers disinfect an auditorium at a performing art venue. (Yonhap)

Though not required for a lockdown under Seoul’s measure, private musical productions have announced a temporary closure of shows to help curb the third wave of the virus.

The musical “Monte Cristo,” produced by EMK Musical Company at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul, a private arts theater, has halted its run from Saturday to Dec. 20.

Musical production agency Seensee Company announced Friday that it will halt performances of the musical “Ghost” from Saturday to Dec. 19. The show, which runs at private theater D Cube Art Center in western Seoul, will resume on Dec. 20, complying with the government’s social distancing measures.

French musical “Notre Dame de Paris” held at private theater Blue Square in central Seoul, has also halted its performances. Mast Media, which runs the show in Korea, said shows from Wednesday to Dec. 13 have been canceled. However, the afternoon shows over the weekend were carried out.

The shutdown has affected the classical music scene, too.

Pianist Kim Sun-wook’s piano recital scheduled for Monday at the Lotte Concert Hall in Jamsil, eastern Seoul, has been canceled. It is the third cancellation of the show, which was initially scheduled to take place in March and later in September.

Though December is usually the peak season for the performing arts scene, it seems likely the arts scene will remain in a standstill for a while as South Korea hopes to curb the spread of the virus through tightening social distancing measures.

By Im Eun-byel (