Shutdown ‘Devastating’ for Local Theatres

Duluth Playhouse has been hit hard by pandemic

DULUTH, Minn. – The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted more than just businesses across the Northland. Non-profit organizations have also been hit hard.

Audiences can’t fill theatre seats. That means organizations like the Duluth Playhouse haven’t had their primary revenue source for the last two months.

“When we had projected $1.2 million in ticket sales, it’s apparent that’s about $600,000 in cash that we’re not going to have,” said Christine Gradl Seitz, Artistic and Executive Director of the Duluth Playhouse.

She tells us the shutdown has been ‘devastating’ to the theatre.

“We’re doing everything we can to stretch every dollar that we’ve got, but there comes a point in time where you’re like wow, we have to start bringing money into the organization,” she added.

It’s not just ticket sales. Non-profits rely on grants, advertising, and donations. Those are hard to come by with so many businesses shut down and people out of work.

“I have a deeper concern about how that impact will then fold over, when we can get back into business, will we be able to sell the number of tickets or are people scared?” asked Seitz.

The Playhouse usually employs 250 artists every year, plus an office staff.

The organization is now down to a skeleton crew as they work to provide some virtual programs like singalongs and online dance classes.

“For us, the nervousness of not knowing how long we will have to weather this is hard,” explained Seitz.

It’s a similar story just across Superior Street at the Zeitgeist Arts Building.

Teatro Zuccone, the Zinema movie theater, and the cafe have been shut off to the public since March, but the organization is doing what it can to entertain the community during the pandemic.

“Whether you’re here down in the theater watching a movie and connecting with people or on a virtual chat environment, it’s really important to, while we’re all in isolation, feel like we’re connected,” said Matt Dressel, Programmer and Creative Communications Manager for the Zinema.

The movie theater has an online program called “Matt’s Movies” and is working to put together a family series too.

“I think that it’s going to be a tough sell, when the quarantine is over or whenever we start opening up, to convince people to come out of their houses and stop watching the small screen to come watch a giant big screen,” added Dressel.

These non-profits don’t know when they will be allowed to reopen with live audiences, or what it will look like when they do.

“Does it mean we have to spread people out six feet so now we can’t sell 500 tickets at the NorShor, we can sell 100?” asked Seitz.

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis has canceled all performances through March 2021, but the Duluth Playhouse and Zeitgeist tell us they’re optimistic about getting back to work before then.

“If we found out in August that we could have a gathering of 250 or less, we can put a stage at the NorShor Theatre in four weeks,” explained Seitz.

The Duluth Playhouse has a tentative plan to start its season in September with adjustments in place for how the pandemic may change things.

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