Capital Region

Palace and other Capital Region venues furlough staff during pandemic

The Palace Theatre marquee is seen during the "Save Our Stages"€ press conference in September, announcing bipartisan legislation aimed at providing support for independent live music venues. (Gazette file photo)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The Palace Theatre marquee is seen during the "Save Our Stages"€ press conference in September, announcing bipartisan legislation aimed at providing support for independent live music venues. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, Entertainment, News

ALBANY – The Capital Region arts community continues to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, especially with the recent layoff of the Palace Performing Arts Center’s interim executive director.

Billy Piskutz stepped into the role in 2019 and was the managing director at the historic venue the year before that.

“Sadly, Palace Performing Arts Center has lost 90% of its income since last March and live events seem not likely to resume anytime soon,” said the Palace’s Board Chairman, Stephen P. Baboulis. “In turn, this has adversely affected many downtown businesses that rely on Palace shows to bring customers through their doors. Knowing how important the iconic Palace Theatre is to its community, current theatre operations are focused on bridging the gap until it is safe to reopen. As part of this effort, by mutual agreement, Billy Piskutz has left his position as interim executive director after very successfully leading the Palace Theatre.”

Since the venue closed in March, six full-time employees were furloughed along with more than 70 part-time employees. Eight staff members remain and all have taken salary reductions.

The Palace is just one of many performing arts venues that have had to take measures like these during the pandemic. The Egg has also furloughed most of its staff, including executive director Peter Lesser. All part-time staff members were laid off in mid-March and five out of the six full-time staff members were laid off on April 1.

“We knew that we needed to cut every possible expense in order to get us through this. We had no idea it would be this long at the time,” Lesser said.

The business manager, Matthew Moross, remains on staff to handle postponing shows, giving refunds and other day-to-day tasks.

Proctors laid off 80% of its staff in March, and according to CEO Philip Morris, the non-profit currently employs 34 full-time staff members. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center laid off four staff members in July, and leaders like CEO and President Elizabeth Sobol and the Chief Financial Officer Jay Lafond took 25% salary reductions.

Similarly, the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall laid off three full-time staff members earlier this year, and the remaining five employees took pay cuts.

“As we have taken on a little bit more work, both in terms of recording at the building and our education initiatives, we’ve given some of our part-time staff some additional work but we haven’t changed our full-time staffing from our current reduced levels,” said Jon Elbaum, the executive director of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

While the venue, among others, has organized a few drive-in concerts, as well as outdoor concerts over the summer, it’s unclear when they’ll be able to host indoor performances again.

“We’re in a group of our peers which include Proctors, the Palace, SPAC and The Egg. So we all talk about this every week or every other week. Right now, I think the consensus is we’re looking at the fall of ‘21 as being a time when we can start to reasonably expect to be able to do the kinds of shows we were doing before,” Elbaum said.

However, even when these venues can host regular concerts again, ticket revenue and staffing might not immediately be back to what they were before the pandemic.

“We realize when we do get the green light to come back even if we can that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to come pouring in the doors because they may also be hesitant about getting into crowds of people,” Lesser said. “We have to be mindful of that too.”

“What we’re trying to do now and what we’ve been trying to do since we got the word is just to try to preserve the very limited resources that we have that we can reopen,” Lesser said.

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