Local theaters on Red Alert

Local theaters on Red Alert

The Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket was lit up in red lights on Sept. 1, from 9 p.m. to midnight, one of 1,500 venues across North America to do so as part of the national Red Alert event in an effort to raise awareness about the financial crisis the live event industry is facing. 

Blaming the fact that it’s 2020, Russell Gusetti, executive director of the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland, says he didn’t receive the red lighting he ordered in time to light up the exterior of the theater during the national Red Alert event last week.

Instead, he modified the stage with a red ghost light, a small single-bulbed light that shines on a dark stage overnight when the theater is closed. “We are embracing the image because to us it means that while Blackstone River Theatre is now dark for a while, we will be back. And we know you will be as well,” he said.

Gusetti is just one of many theater and live music venue leaders across the country facing financial hardship due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On Sept. 1 from 9 p.m. to midnight, BRT as well as the Stadium Theatre Performing Arts Centre & Conservatory in Woonsocket were among 1,500 venues across North America that lit up in red lights as part of the national Red Alert event in an effort to raise awareness about the financial crisis the live event industry is facing.

Cathy Levesque, executive director/CEO of the Stadium Theatre, told The Valley Breeze that the theater took part in the Red Alert event “because it is vital for all individuals and venues within the live events industry to unite and support each other through these uncertain times.”

With the ban on large public gatherings and events being canceled since mid-March, the entertainment industry is likely to be the last industry to reopen, according to organizers, and they are calling on the public for help.

“I feel it’s likely it will be until 2021 some time before we can safely hold concert events,” Gusetti said.

The general public doesn’t really understand how many people are affected outside of performers and venues including technology providers, caterers, designers, manufactures, event planners, logistics and transportation teams, producers, agents, show crews, exhibit builders, decorators, and all of the support staff at venues of all sizes, he said. “The list goes on and into the millions whose livelihoods depend on live events.”

According to the We Make Events Coalition, which organized the national Red Alert event, live events employ more than 12 million people and contribute more than $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy. Due to COVID-19, 95 percent of live events have been canceled, 96 percent of companies have cut staff and/or wages, and 77 percent of people working in the industry have lost 100 percent of their income, including 97 percent who are independent contractors/self-employed.

“Businesses are failing under a lack of income and economic pressure,” Gusetti said. “The supply chain has been completely devastated under the weight of cancellations and unknown futures.”

We Make Events organizers say many venues won’t return without some type of financial relief and are calling on Congress to pass the RESTART Act to provide support and relief for venues and production companies of all sizes and “save the places we love.”

They’re also asking Congress to extend full Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, including the extra $600 weekly from the CARES Act, which expired in August despite the live events industry remaining at 96 percent unemployment nationwide.

“What we ask of our community is to contact their elected officials and express how important the passing of the RESTART Act is to the survival of the live events industry,” Levesque said.

Residents can help by contacting their representatives at www.wemakeevents.org and posting a red photo of themselves at their favorite event with the hashtags #WeMakeEvents #RedAlertRESTART #ExtendPUA .

In addition to the Red Alert event, Gusetti said there are other initiatives, including Save Our Stages, which is raising awareness about both the RESTART Act and the Save Our Stages Act, another piece of proposed legislation asking for funding to help the entertainment industry. For more, visit www.saveourstages.com .

According to Gusetti, there have been few programs or grants specifically geared toward nonprofit venues, adding that loans are not an option because “they still need to be paid back, with no guarantee of when we can reopen or even if we can reopen.”

Staff at the Stadium Theatre said they’d be grateful for monetary donations. Visit http://bit.ly/STPACDonate . They are also holding a membership drive where participating individuals receive benefits depending on their membership level, but for the most part this drive is to support the Stadium Theatre and the work that they do, Levesque said.

Gusetti, who said BRT has cut all expenses except absolutely necessary ones, said he’d also be appreciative of support. People can donate via check or PayPal, become a member of the theater, or contribute to a GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-for-the-blackstone-river-theatre .

While the Stadium Theatre has been trying to stay active with small socially distanced events and theater education courses, “these events unfortunately are by far not at the audience level since early March when we were mandated to shut down,” Levesque said.

“We thank our loyal patrons and donors who have shown their support during these uncertain times,” she added. “Thirty years ago, the Stadium Theatre started out with nothing but determination and passion; these qualities are exactly what will continue to lead us into the future.”

At BRT, Gusetti said his 165-seat theater can only hold 20 to 25 audience members, and with a 14-foot spacing regulation in all directions from a performer, they could only allow one performer on the 16-foot stage. The theater has no concerts planned currently though they may try hosting an outdoor concert or two in the fall, he said, adding that he also intends to hold some outside and virtual classes soon.

When these venues are finally allowed to reopen at their full capacity, Gusetti said he’s concerned about how difficult it may be to get people to come back into the space, wondering if they’ll have the financial means and/or feel safe.

“It will be a whole new reality whenever arts venues can reopen,” he said. “The first goal is to simply survive. And arts organizations need help now.”

The Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland displayed this red ghost light on Sept. 1, from 9 p.m. to midnight.