Nicki Clarke of Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts kicked off today’s press conference, held via Zoom, and served as one of the spokespeople for a coalition of 45 performing arts and independent cinema venues representing all regions of the state. Since March 2020, the coalition has been meeting regularly to help the performing arts community successfully navigate its way through the pandemic. After 14 months of reduced or shuttered operations and limited services, performing arts and independent film venues will all begin offering live in-person performances and events regularly.
“Every venue here today is on a journey to increase the number of performances and build back to full capacity attendance,” said Clarke. “We want to invite all New Hampshire residents and visitors to come out and enjoy concerts, musicals, opera, plays, dance, comedy, and film again in our venues.”
Clarke reiterated that reigniting this component of the state’s creative economy is a big step toward New Hampshire’s recovery from the pandemic. The work of these organizations help bring nightlife to downtowns, fill restaurants, and deliver customers to retail establishments. In addition, the organizations employed 3,500 skilled individuals prior to the pandemic and hope to restore those employment numbers.
Maria Laskaris from Lebanon-based Opera North provided historical context of the theater’s community’s journey over the last 14 months. “No matter what lens you look through,the pandemic has been a very challenging time for the performing arts, both for the performers and for the theaters that produce and present live in-person performances,” she said. “Forced to close as non-essential businesses for four months–followed by another 10 months operating with distancing guidelines that restricted capacity to 25-30%–has created enormous financial strain.”
Laskaris praised federal relief assistance and Governor Sununu for supporting venues through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund (NERF), NH Live Venue grants, and soon the Shuttered Venue Operators grant (SVOG) program. Thanks to the roll-out of the vaccine and the expiration of the Safer at Home rules, venues from Keene to Bethlehem will be ramping up their programming starting this summer and continuing into the fall.
Beth Falconer from 3S ArtSpace in Portsmouth shared the expectations of general safety protocols. “The joy of live venues is gathering with a group of people to share an experience. Everyone’s safety in a group setting is enhanced when people are vaccinated, so our first message is ‘Go Get That Shot.’” said Falconer. “The faster New Hampshire gets to 75-80% people vaccinated, the quicker some safety mitigations can go away.”
Until the numbers of vaccinated people reach that percentage, venues will be asking patrons to follow reasonable protocols when they come to a performance or film presentation. The specific protocols are going to vary by venue and among different events at the same venue. Falconer also mentioned that if patrons buy a ticket for an event that is several months off, the safety protocols could change by the actual performance date. Three different venues offered examples of what this could look like.
A presentation on graphic art to help patrons find safety information, led by Andrew Pinard of Concord’s Hatbox Theatre and the Claremont Opera House, preceded a question and answer session.