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Local performing arts nonprofits’ plans for the season affected by COVID-19

Lumberjack Fabulous performs during Mountain Town Music’s trial run of its Door-to-Door Tour 2020 Experience concept Tuesday at Prospector. The musical nonprofit is finding ways to present live performances that adhered to COVID-19 protocols.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

How to donate

• Egyptian Theatre: make single donations or join the Pharaoh Club by visiting egyptiantheatrecompany.org.

• Mountain Town Music: donate on a monthly basis as a sustaining donor or become a Vibe Tribe Member by visiting mountaintownmusic.org.

• Park City Institute: donate or become a member or a sponsor by visiting parkcityinstitute.org.

The lack of live music and other artistic performances has added a dour note to the deserted scenes throughout Park City and Summit County during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Since March, three local live-performance nonprofits — Park City Institute, Egyptian Theatre and Mountain Town Music — have all but silenced their programming due to health concerns. These three Park City staples are exploring ways to stay alive so they can open their doors when the coronavirus crisis ends.

The Hits

Park City Institute, which for the past 20 years has presented such artists as Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti, Jessica Lang Dance and John Baptiste, is facing the cancellation of this year’s Big Stars, Bright Nights summer concert series, said its new executive director, Ari Ioannides. Ioannides succeeded Teri Orr, who had helmed the organization since its inception 25 years ago.

As of now, the Eccles Center, which is the nonprofit’s venue, is considered a school-district facility, and administrators won’t allow any outside programming until Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ends all COVID-19 restrictions, he said.

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The cancellation of the summer concerts will add to Park City Institute’s woes in the wake of canceling the remainder of its 2019-20 Main Stage season and its annual Saints and Sinners Ball fundraiser, at a $100,000 cost, Ioannides said.

“Adding the lack of ticket sales with the cost of canceling the fundraiser, we estimated in that week the impact to the institute was to the amount of $200,000 to $250,000,” Ioannides said. “That is a huge hit. Immediately and dramatically in the worst way.”

The Egyptian Theatre was the first of these organizations to voluntarily shut down on March 6, and theater manager Randy Barton said he made that decision a few days before the Summit County Health Department issued the self-isolation order.

“We had three big sold-out shows with people coming from all around the nation to see a band called moe., but we got the sense that it wouldn’t have been a good move to host those shows,” Barton said.

So far, the Egyptian Theatre has canceled or postponed concerts through June and is currently looking at more possible cancellations in July.

“We’ve been making our decisions on a two-month basis, and the lack of performances has cost the Egyptian Theatre $75,000 a month,” Barton said.

As the impact of COVID-19 on the community became apparent, Mountain Town Music and its community partners canceled about 30 apres ski performances that were scheduled for March and April, due to the resorts closing early, said Brian Richards, the nonprofit’s community conductor of musical matters.

“However, because we don’t generally program any music from the end of the ski season through the beginning of the summer, the county shutdown has not forced us to cancel any current programming,” Richards said. “In fact, we were able to quickly pivot to a virtual platform and have offered nightly live music streams since the start of April.”

The virtual program is known as the Local Lounge and presents nightly performances via Facebook Live, Richards said.

“As far as our traditional summer programming, everything is currently on hold,” he said. “We haven’t felt compelled to cancel anything quite yet as the situation is extremely fluid and being reevaluated every two weeks.”

The Challenges

The Egyptian Theatre, which seats 350, needs to fill 250 seats in order to make presenting a show worthwhile, and that would not be feasible with the social-distancing mandate, Barton said.

“It’s difficult for us, because we’re so small,” he said. “We can’t offer world-class entertainment in a small space for 20 people.”

The Park City Institute, which had to move its Big Stars, Bright Nights Summer Concert series to the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts from Deer Valley Resort last year, would have an easier time presenting concerts because of the number of seats in the auditorium, Ioannides said.

“Our venue is a 1,200-seat theater, so we run on a little different economic scale than the Egyptian Theatre,” he said. “We have a season sponsor, and we have show sponsors, so we could fill up about 40% percent of our theater and financially make a lot of our shows work.”

It is, however, unclear when the venue will open to outside programming, Ioannides said.

Mountain Town Music, on the other hand, doesn’t have to rely on national talent or ticket sales to generate revenue like the Egyptian Theatre or Park City Institute, Richards said.

“All of our programming is free and the majority of the musicians we work with are local Utah residents,” he said. “We will cancel things last-minute as we need to.”

That being said, some of the bigger venues Mountain Town Music works with, including Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort, which includes The Canyons, can make internal decisions that will force Richards to cancel or postpone events.

“We will work closely with them as they make these decisions,” he said.

The Plans

While the situations for these nonprofits may look a little bleak, they have all made plans that are designed to carry them through this uncertain time.

Barton said the Egyptian Theatre’s plans include money raised from its YouTheatre summer camps and some private events the theater will host for its Pharaoh Club members.

YouTheatre, run by Jamie Wilcox, teaches local kids the on- and offstage aspects of theater.

“We have built out the YouTheatre space and have retractable walls so we can provide spacing in the rooms,” he said. “So we feel we’re in a good place to provide world-class theater instruction for the kids if we’re allowed to. And it looks like we’ll be able to.”

Pharaoh Club is a social group of theater supporters who, in return, receive benefits including invitations to exclusive events, Barton said.

“It’s a year-round commitment, and they become part of our family, who we invite to the theater for private socials,” he said.

Ioannides said once he is given the green light to start programming concerts again, his plan for presenting shows will still adhere to social-distancing protocols that will utilize the Eccles Center’s size.

“Members of the same family can sit together and we will have 10 feet between those family groups, which means two or three seats on every side, and no one in front or behind,” he said. “It will be like a checkerboard, and we want to do this for the protection of our patrons.”

Mountain Town Music is also exploring alternative programming, according to Richards.

“We’re excited to launch our Door-to-Door Tour 2020 Experience with our partners Top Shelf Services, Savory Kitchens and Harvest Moon Events in the next few weeks,” he said. “We’re essentially going to bring the music to the people. We will put on Neighborhood Concerts for households in cul-de-sacs, streets, backyards, garages and driveways; you name it and we will make it happen.”

The program will be donation-based, Richards said.

“We did a test on (Tuesday) in a cul-de-sac in Prospector, and everyone was able to responsibly social distance in their driveways and the feedback was amazing,” he said.

In addition to Door-to-Door Tour, Mountain Town Music is testing another concept — to parade a band through specific neighborhoods at 6 p.m. every Wednesday.

“We’ll choose a neighborhood within Park City limits each week and put a band on a flatbed truck and drive around while all the residents sit out in their front lawns and watch the music go by,” Richards said.

The public can help the three nonprofits maintain and carry out these plans during these uncertain times by making donations. (See accompanying box).

“We believe there is an opportunity to bring the community together in creative ways right now,” Richards said. “Once the arts and cultural community has a better understanding of the parameters we can operate under, you will see some amazingly creative ideas come out of this.”


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