A year after COVID shutdown, Park City’s performing arts nonprofits are hanging on
Organizations looking to the future
The coronavirus pandemic shut down Park City 12 months ago.
Through those 52 weeks, the town’s four biggest performing arts nonprofits — the Egyptian Theatre, Park City Institute, Park City Beethoven Festival and Mountain Town Music — found ways to keep themselves in the public eye and, most importantly, stay afloat.
While all canceled most of their programming, Mountain Town Music found a different way to bring live music to a small crowd through its Door 2 Door tour, and the Park City Institute and the Park City Beethoven Festival turned to virtual programming.
The Egyptian Theatre, on the other hand, went dark to preserve resources but, like the others, is finding ways to come back.
Egyptian Theatre’s next act
“Our last show was a little more than a year ago with Sam Bush on March 6, 2020,” said Egyptian Theatre manager Randy Barton. “The show the next week was supposed to be moe., but we saw what was happening with COVID-19, and we were the first to cancel any show. Since then, we’ve not had any major shows.”
The theater secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan that helped it retain its staff through mid-August.
During that time, Barton worked with Park City-based singer and songwriter Robyn Cage and performed Broadway Voices, an intimate night of showtunes for the theater’s Pharaoh Club members. But as the summer wore on, Barton and his crew saw the writing on the wall.
The theater would not bring any more money until it could go back to booking shows of established, award-winning musicians and theatrical productions, Barton said.
The loss of live shows cut the theater’s annual $4 million budget to less than $2 million, according to Barton.
So, he and the staff made the decision to go dormant and furlough the staff.
“We slowly brought some people back, and we will bring our entire staff back next week, based on another round of payroll protection, and the fact that our YouTheatre summer camps are coming up,” Barton said. “But we’re still not comfortable enough to put a major show on our schedule.”
Still, Barton has a plan.
“We will start booking shows for the summer of 2022, and work backward to the present,” he said. “As soon as we get two months away where we feel we can safely put on a 357-seat, shoulder-to-shoulder, no-mask show, we’ll do it.”
In the meanwhile, Barton would like to see COVID cases decrease.
“The big thing people can do is get vaccinated,” he said. “It might surprise us how quickly things can turn back to normal, but we will believe it when we see it.”
Park City Institute’s sustainability
Calling 2020 an interesting year is an understatement, said Ari Ioannides, who became Park City Institute’s executive director on March 1 of last year.
One of the first things he did was cancel the Saints and Sinners Ball, the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser, for the safety of supporters and staff.
Ioannides and the board also decided to cancel its Big Stars, Bright Nights summer concert series.
“The year before COVID, we had a $2 million budget, and we worked hard to cut down on recurring expenses and work with our vendors,” he said. “But we still had to basically shut things down and furlough people, because we weren’t able to sell any tickets or engage our stakeholders due to COVID-19.”
To keep the nonprofit in the public’s eye, Park City Institute began Locals Live, which streamed concerts presented by Park City-based musicians who, along with the crew, got paid for their work.
“This was something I wanted to do before COVID,” Ioannides said. “I wanted to engage the local performing-arts community in a bigger way.”
The concerts were originally filmed in a black box theater at Park City High School, but that venue closed due to the Park City School District’s concern for the health and safety of their students and staff.
“We quickly pivoted to find other spaces like private homes and other venues where we would produce these videos,” Ioannides said. “We found, however, that if we streamed a performance for free, up to 3,000 people would watch it, but when we charged $25 to stream a concert by Jeff Daniels (or Suzanne Vega), only 30 or so would tune in.”
Park City Institute eventually ended Locals Live, but Ioannides wants to bring it back when finances grow more stable.
Ioannides is currently looking to the upcoming summer season, which was originally scheduled to start on April 17 with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Unfortunately, the performance has been postponed, because Summit County remains in a high-level COVID-19 transmission level, he said.
In the meanwhile, Park City Institute is utilizing the time and some grant money to install more safety measures.
“We bought a paperless ticketing system, and we are working with Park City School District’s PC CAPS program to develop an online program that you can look at from any electronic device to replace the physical programs we hand out at each show,” he said.
The nonprofit is also working with Summit County and, once performances start, will require masks, hand sanitizers and socially distanced seating at the Eccles Center.
“We’re lucky we have 1,200 seats and can space people out,” Ioannides said.
Although Park City Institute always accepts donations, the best way to help the nonprofit is to buy a ticket to upcoming performances, he said.
“Tickets will go on sale starting a month before each show, and we have some changes in this year’s lineup,” he said.
Beethoven Festival’s plan
Early in the pandemic, the Park City Beethoven Festival pivoted from presenting live concerts to posting recorded performances of past concerts on its YouTube channel.
The project was spearheaded by the festival’s archivist Russell Harlow, who co-founded the festival with his wife Leslie.
“Russ would get these recordings ready for our weekly Sunday broadcast,” Leslie said. “This
kept us busy full time, because they are pretty big projects.”
The festival has archived recordings that reach back to 1988, Russell said.
“The biggest challenge to getting these ready for posting is to listen to all the concerts in real time,” he said. “We’re re-discovering performances that we really haven’t listened to since the actual concerts.”
Posting these concerts increased the Park City Beethoven Festival’s online subscribers, according to Leslie.
“We only had 15 subscribers when COVID hit us last year, and we now have more than 130,” she said.
In addition to posting concerts, the Harlows create and distribute DVDs to senior centers around Utah.
“These DVDs are silent films with classical music we performed live,” Leslie said. “We used to perform outreach concerts for senior residents, but had to stop that due to COVID. So, we decided to make these DVDs.”
The Harlows are also working on an online series for these senior centers.
“I’m putting together videos of concerts we recorded live, and we will put those online and send links to activities directors,” Leslie said.
Although the coronavirus shutdown took half of the Beethoven Festival’s annual budget of $200,000, the impact wasn’t as severe, because a large portion of that is counted as in-kind donations, which are basically free services, she said.
“COVID did knock out all of our ticket sales and in-person fundraisers, but most of our expenses went down as well,” Leslie said. “We usually put on 35 concerts a year, and we didn’t have to fly in any artists. We didn’t have to pay them to play. We didn’t have to pay for housing and other expenses.”
Looking toward the future, the Harlows are trying to find ways to schedule some safe, outdoor performances.
“We are planning some pop-up concerts in June and July, for some small, safely masked and distanced, and hopefully, vaccinated audiences,” Leslie said. “We have an RV that we can pack up with our own sound system and park and play.”
Mountain Town Music’s next step
Mountain Town Music, which usually schedules 300 live, outdoor concerts by local artists, quickly adjusted to the COVID-19 restrictions last year by cutting its scheduling in half, and establishing the Local’s Lounge and its Door 2 Door Tour.
“Right after COVID hit, we started the Local’s Lounge, and we worked with a few of our community partners to establish a nightly livestream in order to stay relevant and support our local musicians,” said Brian Richards, Mountain Town Music’s community conductor of musical matters. “They were hit really hard, all of a sudden they went from having several gigs to having them all canceled in the blink of an eye.”
The Local’s Lounge allowed Richards and Mountain Town Music to assess the situation and plan the Door 2 Door Tour 2020, which brought live music to cul-de-sacs, driveways and backyards via the back of a flatbed truck.
“We were able to present 104 safe, responsible private concerts, (and) we are extremely proud to say we had zero confirmed COVID cases,” he said.
Door 2 Door was conceived as an altruistic program, according to Richards.
“So many people in the music industry had the rug pulled out from under them and were truly struggling,” he said. “This allowed our musicians, sound engineers and loaders — our gig workers — to earn a paycheck and that was very important for us.”
Mountain Town Music plans to continue the Door 2 Door program this summer.
“We are going to give our Vibe Tribe members first crack at booking their favorite bands on their preferred dates, then we are going to open it up to the rest of our community,” Richards said.
Bands and booking dates can be found by visiting mountaintownmusic.org.
At the same time, Richards is hoping this summer returns to a somewhat normal season with the vaccinations and people following COVID-19 mandates.
“While it’s not totally clear what the state, county or our community partners will allow this summer, we’re hoping we can move forward,” he said. “We are confident that we can do so in a responsible manner. One that respects our community and still allows us to fill the mountain air with music.”
The nonprofit has already confirmed artists and dates for the Woodenshoe Park Concert Series in Peoa, and it’s moving forward with its concert series on the Great Lawn at High Star Ranch in Kamas, Richards said.
“Park Silly Sunday Market is working on plans to safely hold a scaled-back version of their event and we are hopeful that it will include musical programming,” he said.
Mountain Town Music is, at it core, a wellness organization, according to Richards.
“We are dedicated to the well-being of our community and are committed to improving the quality of life through music,” he said. “When you look at a Mountain Town Music Event, most people attend with their friends or family. They are outside. They’re in the sunshine. They get to dance, and they get to hear music. When all five of those things happen in conjunction with each other, it’s a beautiful experience for our community.”
• Egyptian Theatre: parkcityshows.com
• Park City Institute: parkcityinstitute.org
• Park City Beethoven Festival: pcmusicfestival.com
• Mountain Town Music: mountaintownmusic.org
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