Thursday, May 6, 2021
May 6, 2021

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Closed for more than a year, local theaters turn to virtual options to stay connected with supporters

The show must go on, even amid COVID restrictions

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Kathryn Rose performed at Longview’s Columbia Theatre in October 2020 without tickets sold or audience members in seats.

Only the video, sound and lighting crews heard Rose sing Irish folk songs in person.

Rose was featured in the theater’s virtual artists series, a project that allows artists to perform in front of theater supporters online while protecting viewers from the airborne coronavirus.

Rose, from Astoria, said she is ready for the theater’s next round of live performances to better connect with audiences.

“I really miss performing in front of people,” she said. “With livestreaming, you miss the energy you get from the crowd.”

The live theater nonprofits Columbia Theatre in Longview and Love Street Playhouse in Woodland have not sold tickets or hosted shows since March 2020. The venues are working together to create virtual options for theater lovers, while waiting for state officials to let them reopen.

Virtual performances

The Columbia Theatre’s virtual series “Artists in Our Midst” ran in the fall and featured nine performers. Links to musicians’ PayPal accounts to “tip” them were included, and viewers watched online for free.

Plans to create online performances were in the works before the pandemic, according to Columbia Theatre general manager Kelly Ragsdale.

“Everything’s been changing even prior to COVID,” she said. “A lot of us in the industry realize we will still be providing some sort of virtual programming (after the pandemic).”

The theater plans to host online stage makeup tutorials in the upcoming months, but no exact dates are set.

The owner and artistic director for Woodland’s Love Street Playhouse, Melinda Pallotta, will teach courses that include applying makeup to appear older, younger or scarred, or to be animals or inanimate objects.

Pallotta said she advises makeup for actors at the theater run by her and her husband, Lou, which also has been closed for more than a year.

Vanished revenue

Ragsdale said the Columbia Theatre lost about 90 percent of its earned revenue since March 2020. Typically, she said, about 65 percent of the theater’s revenue comes from ticket sales, 25 percent from rentals, and the rest from donations and grants.

The venue has not hosted a performance or rental for more than a year, and has one rental tentatively scheduled in August.

Love Street Playhouse has not earned revenue since the March 2020 closure.

“We didn’t think we’d survive,” Pallotta said. “We were thinking about selling the business and closing last summer.”

Pallotta said the venue can seat 79 guests, so she has not considered opening the venue with limited seating because it would be cost prohibitive.

She said the city of Woodland gave the playhouse enough federal pandemic relief funds to survive through September.

The Columbia Theatre can seat the same amount in both phase 2 and 3 of the governor’s reopening plan based on the venue’s size, Ragsdale said. A maximum of 200 attendees are allowed in venues at one time during the lowest limit of phase 2 and 600 during the highest limit of phase 3. The theater can seat 814.

To stay afloat, Ragsdale said, the organization received about $19,000 from a Working Washington grant, $2,500 in a Washington State Arts Commission grant, two Paycheck Protection loans and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Both Ragsdale and Pallotta said ticket holders donated the price of their tickets for canceled shows.

Love Street Playhouse tentatively scheduled a play called “Shadowlands” for September, though no exact dates are set. The play is about “The Chronicles of Narnia” author C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy Davidman.

The Pallottas said that when theatergoers enter the playhouse, it’s like family visiting their living rooms. When attendees exit, the Pallotas usually shake their hands or hug.

“We hope we can do some hugging,” Pallotta said. “It’ll be hard to not have that contact anymore.”

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