LETTER | Last week, my team at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (PenangPac) were busy updating our ticketing system to follow the crowd distancing standard operating procedure (SOP). This was done in preparation for one of our upcoming shows, planned to be staged in two weeks time at our black box theatre, PenangPac.
For those who are not aware, the seating guidelines for creative industries such as performing arts centres clearly state that there must be a 1.5m distance from one audience seat to another.
As a result, the new seating arrangement only allows 28 seats per show, compared to 114 seats previously (at 100 percent capacity). We were heartbroken.
The decision to stage shows was made not only to continuously offer theatre experience to our patrons who have been deprived of it throughout the movement control order (MCO) but also to help us financially by earning from ticket sales.
Unfortunately, no thanks to the SOP, we end up operating at a loss.
For your information, due to the 1.5m social distancing guidelines set by the government, we lose a total of RM12,040 from the 344 unoccupied seats throughout our four scheduled shows.
Even if we manage to put on a full house performance, with only 28 seats to offer per show, we cannot even cover our venue cost. At least when the theatre was allowed to operate last July, we were able to offer 57 seats by skipping a seat between every occupied seat and managed to break even.
As upsetting as it was, nothing could have angered me more than what came next.
As we were contemplating our next strategy to save us from the financial crisis we are currently facing, I received an email requesting me to attend a meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Upon getting my permit to cross the border, I booked my online train ticket and hopped onto the electric train service (ETS) by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB).
As I entered my coach, I was shocked to see rows of seats without any cross marks on them. I asked an attendant if the social distancing SOP was enforced on the train. However, he simply dismissed my question by asking me to sit according to the seat number printed on my ticket.
I walked along the aisle, searching for my seat, realising all the seats were twin seaters. Shortly afterwards, a man unloaded his luggage onto the compartment above our heads and sat beside me. His shoulder rubbed against mine and so did his thigh!
As people continued to occupy the seats, it hit me then that I would be spending four hours in the air-conditioned coach without any social distancing what-so-ever!
Whatever happened to the 1.5m seating distance SOP forced upon the creative industry players when public transportation is allowed to operate at full capacity?
Why is the government picking sides on which industry to support and which to step on?
I asked the stranger sitting next to me if he was comfortable with the non-social distancing seating arrangement inside the train. He smiled. Apparently, he takes the train every week and there has never been any social distancing SOP practised on board the train to the best of his knowledge.
I explained to him about the 1.5m social distancing rule applied to seating arrangements in the theatre, and he shook his head.
"One point five social distancing at the theatre to watch a one to two-hour show, and zero metres social distancing in a four-hour train ride!" I stressed.
"That's ridiculous. Who makes these decisions?" he asked.
I smiled, bitter.
The truth is, that is something I’d like to know as well - who is responsible for these double standard decisions anyway?
The writer represents the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (PenangPac).
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.