Local entertainment venues react to the unknown
Area performance venues are among the countless businesses and nonprofits feeling the squeeze of government-mandated restrictions and closures in response to the COVID-19 public health event.
Many Maryland theaters closed their doors following Gov. Larry Hogan's March 12 announcement prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people. Some small venues tried to hang on a little longer, but the days to follow brought restrictions against gatherings of more than 50, then 10, and then closure of all non-essential businesses.
Jessica Green, executive director of The Maryland Theatre, said no private or public events or performances have taken place there since March 12. Roughly 25 performance events involving at least 10,000 tickets have been canceled or postponed, not including private, non-ticketed events.
“Basically all events are cancelled until further notice,” she said. “It makes it challenging to do business, but it is in everybody's best interest.”
The theater is not responsible for canceling events, Green said, but leaves it up to performing entities. All activities through April 27 have been canceled consecutively, she said, and others have been canceled sporadically through June.
Area competition Teens Have Talent and Eagles tribute band Eaglemania were a couple of the earliest shows to be called off. Both have been rescheduled — Eaglemania for Sunday, Oct. 18, and Teens Have Talent for Friday, May 22. Some rescheduled dates might need to be revisited pending the length of closures.
Staff at the nearly 1,300-person capacity theater is attempting to reschedule many ticketed performances for fall of 2020 or for this time next year. People who purchased tickets through Ticketmaster will have their tickets transferred for rescheduled events.
“It's really easy for ticket-holders. They don't really need to do anything but mark their calendars for the new date and time,” Green said.
If ticket-holders are unable to attend an event on the new date, theater staff are encouraging them to share the tickets with a friend or family member or to resell them on Ticketmaster.com.
“If they can't find someone to use the tickets, we are asking them to consider a donation to the performing entity. Most of the ticket money goes to the group putting on the show, not to The Maryland Theatre,” Green said.
The public largely has been not only cooperative, but supportive of the theater through the closure. The number of people who have called requesting refunds is “literally less than 10.”
“They've been for really good reasons, like, 'Look. My daughter is getting married on this date,'” she said.
A performance by comedian Ron White which was scheduled for March 28 has been rescheduled for Sept. 25.
“He is a crowd favorite,” Green said. “He always sells out two shows.”
Unfortunately, she said, the reschedule date is the same night as Hagerstown Community College's Tribute 2020 recognizing John and Teresa Barr to raise funds for student scholarships.
“Hopefully some people who planned to attend both will be able to make the 10 p.m. (Ron White) show, but that will be a long night,” she said.
The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts' spring musical that takes place for two weekends, and six performances every April, had to be postponed due to school and business closures and gathering restrictions.
“We are working to reschedule,” Green said. “It's very challenging because we don't know when school will be back in session and they need to consider graduating seniors, summer vacations, kids leaving for college. The school system is working on that one.”
In past years, the spring musical has sold around 6,000 tickets.
“It has really become like a spring tradition for a lot of community members,” she said, “even members who are not associated with BISFA.”
The Maryland Theatre is still receiving annual donations and pledges to support its expansion project.
“I would say to community members, especially during this time, remember the nonprofits and support them,” Green said. “There are so many wonderful nonprofits in this community that are heavily supported by donations. Right now, operations are completely null and void but we still have operating expenses. So those donations are critical right now.”
No one has a crystal ball, she said, but health and safety must be the priority.
“Without that, we have nothing else. If we don't have healthy performers, they can't come back and do the show this fall or next year. If we don't have healthy students, they can't continue their education. If we don't have healthy community members, then they have no reason to offer support,” Green said. “I think everyone is being patient and hopefully this is a time of kindness and we are all going to be a better community for it at the end.”
Robin Dolbin, interim director at H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., said this is the first time in her work with the center since it was built in 2005, that she has dealt with a challenge of this magnitude.
“The industry has instances of cancellations for myriad of reasons — performers' health, weather. All types of factors come into play with performing arts,” she said. “This impact of this (pandemic) is unique because it is across the board.”
Luhrs has followed protocol issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Staff had to cancel seven shows of a variety of genres, including R&B and country performances, family programming, comedy, and a university concert.
“At this point, things seem to change hourly,” Dolbin said.
The center only had events scheduled through the end of May because its seasons run September through May, and that has helped in managing postponement and rescheduling. As of Monday, its schedule has just one event remaining, Forever Motown on May 30. On Tuesday, that was canceled.
Luhrs plans to roll out its season for shows beginning in the fall. Social distancing is difficult for many people, Dolbin said, and she anticipates they will be looking to reengage with community and live entertainment.
“We are planning for those and hoping that we will be in a different place at that point,” she said. “We are trying to be very optimistic.”
Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa., shut down in mid-march impacting six or more performing arts events, executive director Jon Meyer said. The theater, which has roughly 800 seats, is trying to reschedule as much as possible, and plans to offer refunds or credits to ticket-holders.
During March, the venue mainly is used by Chambersburg Community Theatre, which postponed a two-weekend run of “Nana's Naughty Knickers” until October.
The Blues, Brews and Barbecue planned for May 2 will be rescheduled.
“We won't have dates for rescheduling until we have a better idea when we'll be coming back when this is all over,” Meyer said.
As of Monday, Meyer was hoping to find a band to partner on a live-streamed fundraiser to be aired from a band member's house. Proceeds would be split between the band and the theater.
Pennsylvania's county-by-county, stay-at-home order became a statewide order on Wednesday.
“We're just hanging in there, looking forward to when everything will be stable,” he said. “When we can reopen and continue as normal.”