Thursday, October 22, 2020
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Licking County entertainment venues looks to community to help them survive pandemic

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NEWARK – Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, it seems like every facet of life has been disrupted.

Licking County’s entertainment industry has been especially hurt.

Forced to close their doors in March at the height of the government-imposed shutdowns, most of Licking County’s entertainment venues have remained closed as they optimistically rescheduled their shows for the summer months, then more realistically, to 2021.

Venue officials say they, like businesses across the country, have taken cuts to their revenue. Some of them are now looking to the community for their support, to help them endure until the pandemic is over.

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“At the top of the pandemic, we had to cancel our summer season,” Weathervane Playhouse Acting Artistic Director Kirsten Upchurch said during a recent interview with The Advocate. “Then we realized we needed to cancel our entire 2020 season. Everything except our educational programming was shut down (but) that went online.”

By taking their educational programming online, Upchurch said they’ve found more competition and getting the word out on their efforts has also been difficult. Their income, she said, has been fully curtailed.

Like Weathervane, Tom Atha at Thirty One West said the pandemic and its effects has “completely crushed” them.

“We’re looking at from last March until likely next summer or fall…a year to a year and a half of halted activity. That’s a pretty big hurdle to overcome,” Atha said. “We are making the most of preparing ourselves for the end of this period.”

Although Christina’s Hullabaloo Performing Arts Theatre, a children’s theater located in Indian Mound Mall, has been open for shows since July, they have been closed to the public and with reduced capacity, vastly decreasing their revenue.

“We still have to pay rent no matter what. If we didn’t have a private way to pull money, we wouldn’t be open probably,” Director Christina Barth said. “We have done shows for family and friends, but we didn’t get the revenue from the house.”

“We’ve been doing the same thing we’ve been doing since June – keeping it open for the kids,” she continued. “They’re so thrilled because that’s something to do and somewhere to go. This is our sport. We do whatever we need to do to make it survive and thrive.”

Many of Licking County’s entertainment venues have found ways to help keep them afloat, whether through fundraisers or other means.

Atha said Thirty One West is weeks away from rolling out a food service on their first floor and hope to soon open their second floor for local acts to perform to smaller groups.

Weathervane Playhouse’s virtual gala began on Thursday with their team hoping to raise about $50,000 to help their survival. The gala is a telephone marathon style and according to Upchurch, will last as long as they keep raising funds. More information can be found on their website, WeathervanePlayhouse.org.

Upchurch said donations are likely the strongest way to help Weathervane at the moment. She noted like many entertainment venues during the pandemic, they have operational costs that go beyond their income at the moment.

Hullabaloo is also hosting Haunted Haven, which will be a haunted house fundraiser, in autumn. The cost will be $5 per person ages three and up. More information can be found through their social media and their website at HullabalooPerformingArts.org.

The children’s theatre is also having their first open to the public show, Sleepy Hollow, on Friday, Oct. 16 through Sunday, Oct. 18. Capacity is limited and all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are followed. Tickets can be purchased in advance on their website.

Leaders in Licking County’s entertainment industry said their industry is important to the Newark and Licking County community, often providing more than just entertainment.

Atha said one thing that surprised him was finding 70% of their audience comes from outside their zip code, often coming from the Columbus area, throughout the state and even out of Ohio.

“It was a big surprise for us that we were generating some tourism locally,” Atha said, noting the impact on downtown restaurants, hotels, and other community aspects. “When we opened Thirty One West, we saw a need for a space where community could experience music in a social environment. What we saw over the last few years, is the importance of having that place in our community.”

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“Everyone is dealing with reduced social interaction,” Atha continued. “It’s been a real underline for me to see how significant that role is in connecting people over entertainment and shared experience.”

According to Upchurch, Weathervane has had an ingrained relationship with Newark and the Licking County community.

“We’ve gone through several bouts of tribulations,” Upchurch said, also noting the venue has participated in a coat drive, holds an angel ticket program and has Camp O’Bannon participate often. “The community has always shown us support….I think here in Licking County, we have such a wonderful group of individuals who are community driven. I’ve lived in several places in the country, and I keep coming back to Licking County. A large portion of that has to do with how wonderful our arts programming is in Licking County. What we have is really good quality and does look back to the community.”

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