COVID-19 has led to the wholesale cancellation of about any event people planned for in the year 2020. In these parts, a lot of those events were scheduled at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Last season was cut short and the venue, as well as those who perform and work there, are grappling with a coming theater season without crowds. To find out a little of what this means I spoke with President and Chief Operating Officer of the ACPA, Codie Costello.
Are there plans for shows this fall?
At this time there’s not anything specific scheduled quite yet. We are working on what I would call a slow and steady return, once we are able to safely host events here again, which is inclusive of a really robust mitigation plan that involves, obviously, new cleaning protocols and how we’re navigating audiences through lobbies and, socially distant seating and all of that. So there’s a lot of details going into all of that. Lots of communication with all of the arts groups across not only Anchorage, but across the state right now, um, a lot of collaboration and working together on how we can safely reopen when the time is right but when we do return to programs, again that slow and steady return, we’re really focused on some non-traditional uses of the Center and, whether that’s programming that’s going to come to us from our resident companies and other users of the facility, or it’s coming from our community programming team here at the PAC. We’ve got a number of things in the works and just like pretty much any business now, is experiencing, I think there’s a lot of scenario planning and we’re just kinda, you know, plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
So there might be more emphasis on local performers in your reopening of the theater?
Yeah, we’ve definitely had conversations around a local series. There’s a lot of different conversations going on and that’s definitely one of them for sure. Obviously, because I think many of us know and appreciate that there’s no shortage of amazing talent within our community here.
What would socially distanced seating look like?
Well, it drastically changes our capacity so that also goes into the equation of how can we offer enough inventory to make the math equation work out to put up an event, and at the standards that we hold ourselves to as well. So, it impacts things where, if we have to kill every other row, and we have to put, you know six feet between one family group to another, whether it’s, a single seat, a pair, a group of four, it brings down an Atwood Concert Hall [sized venue] to about 350 seats.
Seriously? That’s like a quarter of its capacity, right? (I’m awful at math, it’s more like a sixth)
Right, right, but you know, there’s so many things we have to take into account, including, as people are navigating, circulating to their seats, they’re passing each other, and so you have to also be conscious of things like who’s seated at the end of a row, or can we have people at the end of a row, or do we have to build in a buffer there? So there’s so many factors and luckily we are able to connect with so many venue professionals around the country and the world through different memberships that we have, so you know, just like everyone else we’re on Zoom calls all day long, every day it seems like right now, as we work out those scenarios. Again there’s a lot of brains on the issue right now and luckily we are connected to all of them, learning a lot, and applying a lot of those guiding principles in order to keep our artists, and our staff and our crews, and our audiences safe.
Are there any big variables that you’re waiting to see what happens with that will affect what you can do in the theater?
I mean variables in that just, clearly if we didn’t have to have social distancing our ability to host events in the way that we have become accustomed to (laughs) it would be much easier, but I don’t see that changing for quite some time. So we’re not, we’re past the point of wishing it would get better faster, we’re kind of pivoting towards this new reality and embracing it, and evolving our business plan so that we can support artists and bring the community, it’s so ready for connection and what the arts bring, including healing, and so I think that the biggest barriers, I think we’ve overcome them in terms of thinking that we’re trying to fit an old model into this new reality. I think we’ve realized we have to embrace the new reality. I think for a little while there it was trying to figure out, how, if we’re going to move into streaming, for instance, content, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can do our, our events in the same way we did before and just put ‘em online. It’s not gonna work. So we’re, we’re pivoting and developing new strategies and standards around, what does a streaming event of a live performing art mean? So there’s a lot of efforts around that right now in the industry, not just here in Alaska, but we’re hoping we can help bring solutions forward around that. But it’s not going to be the only answer, I think that’s another thing we’re realizing is that, there’s not going to be just a single solution, that we have to start expanding how we use the space.
There are only a few stagehands in the state of Alaska who pay rent with tech work. A lot of them are with I.A.T.S.E. Local 918, the Anchorage chapter of the international stagehands’ union. To see how things are going with them I spoke with the local’s president, Becca Mahar.
Is there any way to guess how much work there will be for the stagehands at this point or is it purely wait and see?
Right now we’re in a wait and see, I don’t have a lot of details about the slow opening.
How are the stagehands getting by now?
You know, the work tends to dry up in the summer anyway, and most people have another thing that they do in the summer, but a lot of those are, tourism, fishing, construction type stuff. So a lot of things that are also being impacted. And then we didn’t get our last few big jobs of the season because we got shut down on March 13th, so, everybody’s having kind of a hard time and the enhanced unemployment just stopped. So, that’s where we’re all at.
Corona has affected every aspect of daily life at this point. So much feels different all the time it’s hard to notice what the differences are. But some distinguish themselves. A community of stagehands is already facing a lot of uncertainty over lost shows. A venue is struggling with how to bring shows to Anchorage, and if Anchorage doesn’t miss shows already, we will by the time it’s cold out.