Local theaters, venues remain flexible throughout pandemic

‘The new normal’

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford Fredonia Opera House Director Rick Davis stands in front of the marquee recently installed on the building.

Local theaters and entertainment venues continue to move forward into what has been called “the new normal,” despite the challenges they faced during the pandemic.

The businesses and nonprofits survived the tumultuous season through changing guidelines, changing offerings and keeping themselves relevant despite difficulties and challenges along the way. Some venues have applied for grant funding through the federal government, including the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.

Len Barry, Reg Lenna director of marketing and communications, said the theater was grateful to receive $235,193.40 through the U.S. Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. “We applied for it because we lost 70% of our revenue in 2020,” he said. “(The grant funding) goes toward funding staff salaries, facilities and maintenance.”

He said one of the main obstacles of the pandemic was not being able to serve the public. However, the theater found ways to continue to offer limited services through virtual means. Barry said the theater utilized these online means to keep patrons engaged throughout the year.

The Reg Lenna was gearing up to reopen in October 2020, but was unable to due to rising infection rates, Barry said. The theater was then able to reopen in April, with capacity increasing throughout May and June.

“We are seeing attendance creep up,” Barry said.

Currently, the Reg Lenna is focused on showing movies, including classic films; however, their first live event is slated for this month.

When it comes to the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, Barry said the theater is “watching it day-to-day,” and paying attention to guidance and information from various sources, including the Chautauqua County Executive’s office, the Chautauqua County Health Department, the state and the CDC.

“If we have to pivot again, we will be ready to do that,” he said.

Barry said the theater welcomes questions regarding its practices and policies and advises patrons to keep an eye on the Reg Lenna’s website and Facebook page for updates on developments and programming.

Another Jamestown attraction, the Robert H. Jackson Center, also grappled with the pandemic through virtual means. “For us, we created an entirely new virtual programming stream,” said Kristan McMahon, executive director.

McMahon said it has been a positive development for the center and is not something that will be left behind post-pandemic. The online features allowed the center to provide programming to schools, and to continue to engage the public in other ways.

The Robert H. Jackson Center did receive some Paycheck Protection Program funding, as well as a grant through the Museum Association of New York. Likewise, McMahon said donors to the center also helped carry them through the difficult times.

As for the Delta variant, she said the center is keeping an eye out for new information and watching what other nonprofits are doing to handle the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 virus.

“My hope is to stay as ‘business as usual’ as possible,” McMahon said. “The uncertainty of it causes some challenges in terms of planning. We thought by this year, we’d be back to more in-person programming.”

Looking ahead, she said the center is focused on keeping everyone healthy. While the mask mandate was relaxed in June, McMahon said guests are still asked to carry one in case children, especially those under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated, are present.

“I really have community health at the top of my mind when I am making these decisions,” she said. “I hope it is for everyone.”

The Fredonia Opera House is in much the same situation as other venues across the area. Executive Director Rick Davis said the theater recently reopened and is currently only showing movies. “There was a very long stretch where we were closed,” Davis said. “Being closed allowed us to undertake a number of capital projects.”

Davis said the theater was able to complete the projects more easily without patrons in the building, which was a silver lining. However, he said the theater noted the concern from the community regarding the temporary shuttering of the opera due to the pandemic. Since reopening, Davis said he has been “very pleased” with the size of the audiences.

The opera house continues to follow the information being released regarding the Delta variant but has not changed any policies since reopening. He said the fluctuating nature of the situation may cause changes to occur at a later date.

Davis also pointed out that the facility is shared with the village of Fredonia offices, which may also impact policies.

“If the village has a mask mandate, we would have to abide by that as well,” he said.

Going forward, the opera house will maintain its website and social media sites with up-to-date information on changes to policy and other necessary resources. Davis also suggested members of the public call 679-1891 with any questions or concerns regarding their COVID-19 policies.

The Chautauqua Opera Company of Chautauqua Institution was also set back by the pandemic but has made it work through various online offerings, including a YouTube channel and social media. Daniel Grambow, managing director, said the company had to rethink its budget due to COVID-19. Grambow said they worked to keep staff members on staff and provide experiences for the public, despite the public health crisis.

“We had a large season planned for 2020, but hopefully, we can get back to that for 2022,” he said.

For this season, however, the company has sold many tickets to their feature, “As the Cost Crumbles: A Company-Developed Piece.”

Looking ahead, Grambow said the company is prioritizing what they will do in the off-season, as well as engaging with the local community at large. Their popular “Opera Invasion” performances will be released online, and their YouTube channel will continue to be updated with content.

“The pandemic has really been tough for us,” he said. “But it has also shown us what we can do.”


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