In a time where many arts organizations are struggling to get back on their feet after COVID-19 shutdowns and trials, the community’s arts organizations continue to thrive.
Scott Guebert, president of the Theatreworks Community Players board, said the theatre’s recent performances of 12 Angry Jurors gave the organization hope for the future after it had to completely change due to the pandemic.
The recent play and performances “went really well. It was well received, we had good participation, good attendance at all of
the performances, so I think people were ready to come back. Barring any further emergencies and COVID variants and other guidance from public health officials, we’re going to continue to move forward with this season,” he said.
When COVID-19 hit, the theater was required to shut down due to the public health guidelines in place at the time, which threw a wrench in the organization’s plans for its upcoming season.
“It was just such an unknown, and everyone was shutting everything down everywhere. We said, ‘Well, we’ve got to follow federal and the state officials and their guidance,’ and so we shut the theater,’” Guebert said. “We had an upcoming season,” in the “fall 2020 and spring 2021, but we hadn’t announced it yet. We just had shows planned. We said we just couldn’t do anything until we know what’s going on.”
However, Theatreworks developed different ways to still engage with the community and provide some semblance of normalcy during the difficult times.
“That fall, fall of ‘20 and spring of ’21, we offered some performances on YouTube that had minimal performers and participants that came into the theater, and they did their safety protocols at that time, distances and wearing a mask. We did some streaming of just some very simple one act kind of performances,” Guebert said.
Slowly and cautiously, Theatreworks began to reopen. In the summer of 2021, it showcased an audio performance of a play called “Wait Until Dark” where the actors remained off stage. Attendees were required to be masked and vaccinated, and seating was reduced.
“Then things started to look a little bit better, a little bit safer. In December of last year, we did a Reader’s Theater of An O’Henry Christmas,” Guebert said. “Again, we had reduced capacity, everyone was required to wear a mask, except the performers, but they were required to be vaccinated and all of the attendees were required to be vaccinated. That was really well received.”
Theatreworks also used the shut down as an opportunity to upgrade some of the facilities.
“We used that opportunity to look at the theater like a lot of other businesses and organizations when they were closed and said, ‘Oh, we’re not open. Let’s remodel, let’s upgrade, let’s fix things up,’ so we did that,” Guebert said, adding that resulted in several remodeling projects, including the bathrooms and the lobby, installing new glass on the front of the building, and an assisted listening system for those who are hard of hearing.
As things began to look safer, Theatreworks started trying to prepare for a full season.
“As things looked better public health wise, then we said, ‘Okay, we’ve got our season of what we want to do. Do we think we can do it?’ We were going to open with a musical this summer. We always do a musical in the summer, and we were ready to do the musical” but “there was an issue where the director was unable to do it. We couldn’t find another director that quickly,” Guebert said.
Instead, Theatreworks held 12 Angry Jurors earlier in the season.
“We had seven performances, which we usually do six for the dramas and the comedies, and it went really well,” Guebert said. “We had more than half capacity for every performance. I think that’s a testament to ‘People are ready to come back to the theater’.
“COVID affected us by having to sit out almost two seasons of regular performances, but for the 16th season now, we’re pretty much back, full business, full capacity,” he added.
Guebert said he sees no reason for concern as to the future of Theatreworks. The community’s support has allowed it to continue and remain in a stable financial position.
“The community has been very good to us, in supporting us and giving us encouragement that they want us and they’re ready for us and they need us. This is an important part of life for us in this community,” he said.
Theatreworks is not the only local arts organization that worked through the pandemic and is still standing strong.
Heidi Pinkston, executive director of Piedmont Arts, recounted a similar experience.
“Piedmont Arts, being an arts center, of course we closed our doors to the public” on March 17, 2020 “and we continued to stay closed to the public until, I believe, mid-June six weeks later,” Pinkston said. “But, during that time that we were closed, that mandatory shut down, we continued to work. We continued to collaborate and brainstorm what we could do to stay relevant and what we could do to help the community, engage people with the arts even while they were sheltering in place.
“We did a lot of virtual programing. Our educational outreach continued with virtual outreach. It was difficult for everybody, but we continued to offer that to the community and to our teachers, schools, and students. We also created a puzzle. We had two puzzles that we created mid-summer, that’s something that was a popular activity for people while sheltering at home,” Pinkston said.
As soon as the gallery was able to reopen, the agency began offering services to the community.
It reopened mid-June 2020, “and following all (the) guidelines, social distancing and masking. While we did not encourage large crowds or have large crowds, we kept the art museum open,” Pinkston said. “All health officials agreed that visiting an art museum was a low-risk activity, and we felt like it was important to continue to offer arts during the difficult time.”
During the first year of the pandemic, most events were held in the Gravely-Lester Art Garden, and those that weren’t had limited capacity.
“We had activities in the Gravely-Lester Art Garden for adults and for children. We had a Chalk Fest Family Day in August 2020. We continued to stay in touch with our membership, and they were supportive of us. We just continued in doing what we thought was the right thing,” Pinkston said.
While it’s been a slow process getting classes back up to pre-COVID numbers, Pinkston said the events Piedmont Arts hosts are full speed ahead.
“The attendance has been lower for our classes. Our events, everything has been very successful and so far, all of our events have been at capacity,” she said.
Piedmont Arts is looking forward to many events to come. On Friday, Oct. 14 it will host Blues, Brews, and Stews in the Arts Garden. The event offers community members an opportunity to eat, drink, and listen to live music.
Pinkston said the organization sees no reason for concern for the future, thanks to the support of the community.
“There is no concern at the moment. The community has been very supportive of Piedmont Arts. You know, we’ve been a part of Martinsville-Henry County for over 60 years now and people value Piedmont Arts and what we do for the community,” she said.