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When the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down the live music industry, some Tampa Bay venues were hit harder than others.
Clubs like the Orpheum, Jannus Live and Crowbar got crushed, losing weeks of small- to medium-sized gigs at a time. Larger venues like Amalie Arena and the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre postponed a handful of larger shows more slowly.
And then there was Ruth Eckerd Hall.
In the span of about a week, the Clearwater theater postponed or canceled more than 50 shows there and at other venues, from the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre and Palladium to the Chasco Fiesta and PGA’s Valspar Championship.
Other theaters have been hit hard, including Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, which suspended all performances through at least April 19. But the immediate and ever-growing list of Ruth Eckerd Hall postponements remains striking: Josh Groban, Buddy Guy, Graham Nash, Patton Oswalt, Bruce Hornsby and dozens more.
“Obviously, everyone’s concerned about where this is going to hit on the bottom line,” said Susan Crockett, Ruth Eckerd Hall’s president and CEO. “It’s hard for us to assess. If we’re closed for the next four weeks, what does that mean in terms of payroll? But until we know we’re going to be coming out the other side learning. It’s unprecedented, you know?”
Crockett said that for now, while Ruth Eckerd Hall has scaled back services, they have not discussed laying off full-time staff. The 200 or so part-time employees who work events and at the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts will feel the impact, at least temporarily. But construction and maintenance projects, some of which would normally take place in the summer, are continuing.
“Summertime is usually a really slow time, when we do a lot of freshening up and maintenance projects,” Crockett said. “So we’re kind of flip-flopping. The directive to the team is: As long as you’re following CDC guidelines, if you need to be on site, you can do things like cleaning the carpets, repainting areas. Do it now, because our summer’s going to be busier than what you’re expecting.”
Bobby Rossi, Ruth Eckerd Hall’s executive vice president of programming, has been on the phone nonstop with managers and agents looking to book new dates. Some, perhaps optimistically, have rescheduled shows for as early as this summer, including Leo Kottke (June 20) and Killer Queen (July 21). Others are looking as late as next April, effectively turning their 2021 concerts into “postponed” 2020 shows.
And Rossi believes that some artists with postponed summer shows at arenas and amphitheaters might look again at theaters like Ruth Eckerd Hall, should those tours be pushed into winter.
“There’s certainly artists that don’t need to work, that are on the superstar level, that are very protective of themselves and their health,” Rossi said. “They’re not going to be so apt to stay out there, just to do yet another tour or another run. They can postpone it.”
Behind the scenes, Rossi said, managers and agents are already planning new tours for this fall and beyond. While those have not been announced, it’s a sign that the touring industry is already planning its comeback.
Ruth Eckerd Hall’s own timetable for reopening is uncertain.
“The one question no one knows is, when is it going to be safe to do this?” Crockett said. “There are probably going to be people shy about going in public for the next year.
“When you come out the other end, you’re different as a venue, you’re different as a team, you’re different as an employer,” she added. “There is going to be a lot, when we look back, that we’ve learned from this. That’s going to be a silver lining.”
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