Performing arts venues continue to struggle despite relaxed restrictions


NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Performing arts centers in Massachusetts can once again reopen their doors for shows, with the crowed capped at 50% or a maximum of 500 attendees.

But at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, which can normally fit up to 1,200 people, people won’t be filling the seats anytime soon, according to executive director Rosemary Gill. She told 12 News that having the curtain closed for the past year has cost the venue well over a million dollars.

“The art sector has endured probably the longest stretch of a fiscal freefall of any sector,” Gill said.

In Rhode Island, performance venues have a capacity limit of 125 people. Daniel Schwartz, general manager of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, said they’re hoping to soon see capacity changes.

“What we’re looking for now is to be on an equal playing field,” he said. “At this point now, we’re at a disadvantage.”

Schwartz said when promoters reach out, he’s unable to give them any dates for when restrictions may loosen up.

“They then call a theater in Worcester, in Boston, or anywhere else in Massachusetts or down in Connecticut and they’re able to give them much better news than we can,” he said.

The Vets and the Providence Performing Arts Center have been working with the R.I. Department of Health and and R.I. Commerce since the beginning of the pandemic, Schwartz said, and they’re hopeful new Governor Dan McKee will provide them with more guidance.

“The longer we don’t have a deadline of when our restrictions will change, what those restrictions will be, the more business we’re going to lose,” he said.

Gill said they’ll continue to follow local guidance at the Zeiterion, but without the help of grants and PPP loans, getting back to normal won’t happen for a while.

“Probably late spring, early summer, and even at that, it will be at a greatly reduced capacity of about 100 people,” she said.

The Zeiterion is two years shy of being 100 years old. Built on the heels of the Spanish Flu, Gill said she is hopeful the theater will once again bring people together.

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