Music Yakima, theaters begin to plan for post-pandemic reopening | Arts

Yakima Performance Venues, after spending the past 13 months in crouch and survivor mode, are working on plans to reopen to welcome audiences again.

The plans, of course, are full of caveats – whether the artists and touring companies are up and running, whether the state’s capacity restrictions are relaxed enough to let in crowds, whether there is enough time. to take care of all the logistics – but they represent a significant change from the end of last year. Back then, before the availability of the COVID vaccine hit the masses, you couldn’t get Capitol Theater CEO Charlie Robin to talk about the reopening in other than hypothetical terms. The deadlines were not part of the discussion. Now, he says the theater, Yakima’s century-old grande dame of arts and entertainment, could host performances again as early as November.

“This is where we plant our flag,” he said.

Seasons Performance Hall, which has sparked the flame of Yakima’s live music with live broadcasts throughout the past year and very limited in-person seating for the past two months, is also starting to work on a fuller reopening. . Executive Director Pat Strosahl has started making plans to approach other sites in the region to gauge their interest in collaborative programming. That is, he tries to organize a system whereby artists could set up tour routes with several places at once, thus saving them the trouble of doing it piecemeal.

And the Warehouse Theater Company, Yakima’s long-established community theater troupe, is working to determine how it could put on shows on its lawn this summer in order to regain its strength before capacity restrictions allow crowds. to return to the intimate theater space.

“We’re working hard to try to figure out what we can do to get back,” Warehouse executive director Vance Jennings said. “We are continually reviewing the guidelines and trying to get into them as soon as possible.”

In addition to the optimism arising from rising vaccination rates, the outlook for these site operators has been bolstered by a potential infusion of federal funds. The $ 16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators grant, whose applications were due to open last week but were delayed by technical glitches, promises the kind of help art, entertainment and cultural venues need to s ‘seriously engage in the reopening. With potential grants of 45% of an organization’s gross revenue in 2019 (capped at $ 10 million), the SVOG program is designed with reopening in mind.

“If we actually open in November, we need to have the revenue to cover all ramp-up expenses,” Robin said.

For the Capitol, that means re-hiring laid-off staff or hiring new staff. The site typically operates with the equivalent of about 20 full-time employees. But the reduced crew that works for the organization is down to five. In addition, there is the issue of bringing together all of the show-specific part-time workers and volunteers; it takes 120 to 150 people to do a Broadway-style tour in Yakima.

To do this without the revenue streams it usually has would put the Capitol in a precarious position, Robin said. Its budget is more stable than most sites due to its partnership with the city and its collection of sales tax, accommodation tax, and cable tax. But tax revenue on accommodation fell off a cliff last year, as did facility rentals, which normally make up around 40% of the Capitol’s budget.

A SVOG award of $ 500,000, which Robin said is what the venue would qualify for, would go a long way.

“It’s because of the prospect of the Shuttered Venue Operators grant that we’re actually seeing how we’re coming back up,” he said.

The Seasons has a similar perspective, Strosahl said. Like the Capitol, The Seasons depends on facility rentals for a large chunk of its budget. And while it may have remained partially open, first as a live streaming venue and more recently for limited capacity in-person seating, it doesn’t make a profit on these shows. An injection of federal money would be “the support we need to get to the other side,” he said.

Stosahl doesn’t expect live music – which relies on comprehensive, multi-city tour itineraries to make it worth it for artists – to return to 2019 levels for at least a year. But an SVOG grant would allow The Seasons to close the gap by continuing its live streaming model with remote VIP seats. The live broadcast adds $ 1,800 to $ 2,000 in venue costs per show, he said.

“So the amount of money from that grant could get us out of the woods for 40 or 50 gigs,” Strosahl said.

The Warehouse Theater, which operates on a completely volunteer model, does not have the staff costs of other venues. But it still has the cost of maintaining a large facility, which for over a year has not been cheap. As was the case with the Capitol and the Seasons, the Warehouse received donations and money for life sustaining during the pandemic. But without the cash flow from ticket sales, it could really use up the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant money.

“This would allow us to pay for the things needed when we reopen,” Jennings said.

And, of course, the new round of federal funding will not solve all of the venues’ problems. Night (for almost two years by the time it’s all over) cuts a venue’s budget. And that $ 16 billion is going to go fast. But during a Zoom roundtable with site operators last week, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Said she understands this. She will continue to work to help them recover, she said.

“I was very happy to hear Senator Cantwell recognize this,” said Robin, who was one of the theater operators on the Zoom call. “There is an understanding that there is a great demand. “

There is also a broad understanding among site operators that their work means more than money to their community. In Yakima, the Capitol is a symbol of history and resilience as well as a place to see a wide range of diverse programs. The Seasons is the perfect place to see important musicians from genres as disparate as Latin rock and cool jazz. And the Warehouse is a showcase for the theatrical talents of the community itself.

The arts are “the way we become human,” Strosahl said, citing prehistoric cave paintings as evidence of how artistic expression is intrinsic to our identity.

“It is not an economic activity, it is not a livelihood, it is not hunting and gathering,” he said. “It is trying to reflect the human experience and communicate it to other people, and it is deeply necessary.”


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