Performing arts venues suffering from a pandemic shutdown are struggling to move forward

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There is a joke among concert promoters that the government should put them in charge of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine as they have nothing to do.

“Everyone would get a bracelet and go to a VIP post-vaccination meeting and greet to have a photo with Dr. Fauci, ”said John Sanders of DSP Shows.

It’s a little bit of black humor. Sanders said he knew vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci and the end of the COVID pandemic are the only thing that will allow state and local governments to reopen venues throughout New York State and New England where he does business – places like the Academy of Music and Pines Theater in Northampton or Springfield Symphony Hall. He also organizes a few online gigs for Daryl’s House – a club owned by the Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates – in Pawling, New York.

“There is some hope and some light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sanders.

Not every theater or performance space sees a way back to normal.

Last weekend, the nonprofit Bing Arts Center in Springfield announced that it was not reopening and that it had housed the 71-year-old alumnus Cinema is for sale at a price of $ 175,000.

The closed Bing Arts Center at 716 Sumner Ave. in Springfield is for sale. (Don Treeger / The Republican)

In November, flywheel in Easthampton announced that it could no longer afford to rent rooms in the old town hall of Easthampton.

And in a high profile move in December, the owners of Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, Vitek Kruta and Lori Divine, announced that they cannot foresee a reopening due to financial pressures. They said Gateway – home to a concert venue, theater, art gallery, coworking space, and artist workshops – is hopefully for sale to one or more operators who will continue to run it as it was.

“I don’t know if we’ve lost Gateway City Arts yet,” said Sanders. “We’re still having talks.”

Divine noted the discussions and expressed the hope that new ownership would be in place by spring.

“I’d like to keep it in the family, so to speak,” she said, referring to the creative arts community.

There is an expectation that the industry could be back to normal, so to speak, by November. But Sanders and others don’t know how many venues, artists, and how many industry professionals like them will survive long enough to rebuild the entertainment scene.

Asking industry experts when they expect it to reopen will result in months to a year of responses to a shrug that acknowledges their insecurity.

Jim Neill, Marketing Director of Iron Horse Entertainment Group, owned by Eric Suher, said when the Iron Horse in Northampton closed in March the initial feeling was that the store would only be closed for a month or two .

Iron Horse Music Hall

The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton. (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican)

“The wide window we’re working with now could be from this summer to early 2022, depending on how efficiently the vaccine implementation goes,” said Neill. “We have mothballed the venues and will open again when the world is on its way again. I suspect it will be with security for a while. “

Neill said concert goers shouldn’t expect their favorite artists or venues to return anytime soon, either.

“We can’t just flip the switch,” said Neill. “Most of our concert schedule is the result of a sophisticated national booking and touring ecosystem. Northampton is just a date on an artist tour. Add in the unique COVID regulations of each state and city, which as we’ve seen can change very quickly, and it becomes clear that this will be a complicated and gradual undertaking regardless of when the green light is given . While the live business suddenly hits a wall, it is gradually resuming. “

Other theater operators are trying.

“I now have artists calling me,” said Danny Eaton, founder and production manager of The majestic theater in West Springfield.

The Majestic is currently scheduled to reopen in June. And Eaton said this will happen exactly where the theater left off in March 2020, with performances of “The Pitch,” a play by Stan Freeman, a former reporter for The Republican.

The Majestic has held up by keeping its spending very low, Eaton said, adding that he’s even been on leave himself.

“Fortunately, we were in pretty good financial shape when we had to close,” he said.

The Majestic is waiting for a new funding program for operators of federal shuttered venues operators roll out.

It has already received a $ 150,000 SBA loan and $ 116,000 in PPP or a paycheck protection plan, funds that reported to the government that the theater represented 40 jobs.

Nationwide, 67 smaller theater organizations received loans of less than $ 150,000 each, for a total of about $ 2.5 million, according to SBA records.

Several Massachusetts venues have received PPP loans of $ 150,000 or more, including the Boston Huntington Theater Company and the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, each of which received loans of $ 1 million to $ 2 million.

Berkshire County’s theater groups – the Barrington Stage Company, the Berkshire Theater Group, and the Williamstown Theater Foundation – have each received loans of between $ 150,000 and $ 350,000.

Suhrs Iron Horse uses PPP, according to the SBA filings:

  • Iron Horse Ventures: $ 150,000 to $ 350,000; Keep jobs listed as 23.
  • 26-28 CENTER STREET, LLC: $ 26,300 (this address is connected to its bar, The Green Room, just a few doors from the Iron Horse); Jobs reported as 6.
  • Calvin Theater Corp: $ 7,925.00; Jobs reported as 13.
  • Pearl Street Nightclub Inc .: $ 4,852.00; Jobs reported as 19th
  • 21-23 Center Street LLC: $ 7,066 for a room includes a small bar called The Basement, which has dance nights and sometimes bands; Jobs reported as 4th

In addition to finances, Eaton is focused on keeping in touch with the Majestic subscriber base and frequent ticket buyers.

“There will only be one rush,” said Eaton. “I feel like they’re just so ready to go back to normal when talking to people.”

In Greenfield, Hawks and Reed told customers on Sunday evening that they should reopen after the pandemic ended. She announced plans for several livestream events and set up a PayPal link for donations.

The pandemic also slowed efforts to revive Springfield’s CityStage, a performance space that already existed unused since 2018.

Focus Springfield is renting some of the CityStage space for its municipal television operations, but not the main 479-seat theater, said Thomas D. Moore, the interim general manager of the Springfield Parking Authority, which owns the CityStage space and attached parking garage.

“The Focus proposal was to rent and upgrade / upgrade the Black Box Theater, the first level of office space and the large room adjacent to the Black Box Theater,” said Moore.

Following a tender process last year, the authorities also received a proposal from the owners of the Le Souk restaurant to rent and upgrade and improve the main theater and lobby.

“At this point, the SPA has recruited a designer for the planned capital improvement work and is currently working with both groups and their respective design teams on the execution of leases and expected system upgrades,” said Moore. “Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 have slowed the pace of the two projects, but we are still making progress and expect the work to be completed in 2021.”

MGM Springfield, which has agreed under its license to manage shows and bring them to Symphony Hall and the nearby MassMutual Center, said it has not yet focused on shows.

“MGM is an entertainment company and we will keep exploring new ways to deliver exceptional experiences for our guests,” said executives in an email. “But in these uncertain times, our focus remains on maintaining our strict health and safety protocols to slow the rise in city and state COVID-19 cases so that state-mandated restrictions can be relaxed.”

What worries Sanders is what will become of the next cohort of aspiring music professionals. Tour operators and other workers who are still starting their careers are leaving the industry.

“If you’re able to sit it out, you will,” said Sanders. “But for someone in the making, you have to take other opportunities. It’s hard to come back after a year. “

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