A&E: Performers, Arts Organizations Respond to Coronavirus With Uncertainty

Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts managed to squeeze in one performance of “Urinetown” before closing the production due to COVID-19 precautions. Credit: Ron Pollack Photography.

Exactly how much is an abundance” of caution? Over the past week, my inbox has been flooded with press releases and statements announcing cancellations and postponements of concerts, theater productions and art openings, all in response to the growing concern about the coronavirus.

AAAADDDCorooaHomepageADJust a week ago, some television pundits were still proclaiming the entire situation a politically motivated hoax” designed to embarrass the president. Administration officials contradicted Centers for Disease Control experts and confusion ensued. Even before President Trump finally declared a national emergency on Friday, March 13, arts presenters and promoters were taking proactive steps.
Local Pride organizers and music festival producers announced postponements or cancellations of Pride of the Americas, Miami Beach and Palm Beach Prides and the Tortuga Music Festival in an abundance of caution.” They were quickly followed by most regional theater companies and eventually the three major performing arts centers. 

The Gay Mens Chorus of South Florida was among the first to make the difficult decision on March 10, cancelling a pair of concerts originally scheduled for late April:

The Gay Mens Chorus of South Florida is dedicated to the health and safety of our members and the public. Since a large number of our singing members are in the age range that the CDC has requested avoid public gatherings, we have made the difficult decision to immediately suspend all in-person meetings of the Chorus, which includes rehearsals.”

The performing arts centers have announced temporary closures, initially suspending performances through the end of March or early April. 

Out of an abundance of caution, and in an effort to help limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Arsht Center has made the difficult but necessary decision to suspend performances and events at the Arsht Center through Sunday, April 5. This is in line with the directive issued by Miami-Dade County today,” said president Johann Zietsman in a press statement.

Others managed to squeeze in one last weekend of shows, including the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton with the premiere of its production of A Chorus Line,” which announced a postponement out of an abundance of caution,” and independent producer Ronnie Larsen, whose musical Come Out! Come Out!” played to full houses at Wilton Theater Factory in Wilton Manors through Sunday afternoon.

And new restrictions being enacted in cities across the country threaten to close bars and restaurants where cabaret and drag performers eek out a living to packed houses of locals and tourists alike — when there isn’t a global pandemic.

Perhaps more concerning is the livelihoods of the many professional performers, many living show to show, paycheck to paycheck, uncertain when they may be able to work again. As the prognosis for a quick return to normalcy continues to dim, many are taking to social media to both express both their frustrations and hopes while showing solidarity with their colleagues.

Taking to Facebook, Aaron Bravo, a cast member in Urinetown” at Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts (PPTOPA), summed up the wide range of feelings local artists are experiencing: 

It's rare that a show ends and I get the post show blues. But I've never been a part of a show that got cut short. Unfortunately, PPTOPA's production of Urinetown has been canceled after one performance … However, there is still plenty to be grateful for. We were able to put on a show for one amazing audience, who were EXTREMELY receptive, reactive, and appreciative of the work we put into making this show.”

Producer and playwright Larsen said the shutdown could be devastating for small companies because ticketholders instinctively ask for refunds in situations like these.

Their best hope, according to industry experts, is to take this recent meme to heart:

If you have tickets to a live performing arts event from a non-profit organization — such as a theater, dance, music, opera, comedy or literary event — that has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 virus, please consider donating the money to the organization instead of asking for a refund. This is the kind of thing that kills arts groups. Thousands of professional jobs — in full-time, part-time and contract positions; people who work hard and love what they do — are at stake.”