SCHENECTADY — Following a monthslong shutdown necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, Proctors Theatre has been slowly resuming operations, but doesn’t plan to return to a more normal schedule until 2023, the theater’s CEO said on Sunday.
Philip Morris, the CEO of Proctors Collaborative, which is made up of three theaters, including Proctors, said theater patrons have been slow in returning but he expects larger crowds in the months ahead.
“We’re going to do better and better over time, and as we do a little bit better and better, I’ll be able to staff up a little more and be open longer hours and start to go back to what we looked like in 2019,” he said. “But in 2022, we’re not going to look like 2019. It will be 2023 before we look like 2019.”
Morris made the remarks following a press event hosted at the theater with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., where the majority leader touted the billions in coronavirus-relief funding the Capital Region has received through legislation approved by Congress earlier this year.
Among the programs touted by Schumer were relief for local governments secured through the American Rescue Plan Act, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, or “Save Our Stages” program — which Schumer pushed to be included in the $1.9 trillion ARPA bill approved earlier this year.
The grant program allowed theaters to apply for up to $10 million in funding in order to retain staff and cover overhead expenses incurred during the shutdown. More than $1.9 billion has been handed out to over 1,400 live venues throughout the country, including $39 million to Capital Region venues, according to Schumer.
Schumer was in the process of completing his annual tour of all 62 counties in New York, his first as majority leader. Schenectady County was his 61st stop, and there were plans to travel to Wyoming County in Western New York later in the day.
The annual statewide tour plays a vital role in forming legislation, Schumer said, adding he plans to continue the tours as long as he holds office.
The majority leader also plans to run for reelection next year, he said.
“If you do a good job, everything else always works out,” Schumer said. “We’ve worked hard for New York.”
Schumer said live venues play a pivotal role in the local economy, helping to generate millions in revenue each year in downtowns like Schenectady.
“When someone comes to see a show here at Proctors, they eat at the restaurants, they shop at the stores,” he said. “It has so many ancillary benefits.”
Around 7% of the Capital Region’s economy comes from the arts and entertainment industry, generating billions in revenue annually, Schumer said.
Proctors, meanwhile, brought in $30 million and hosted over 3,000 events in 2019, the year before the pandemic set in. The economic impact grows to $70 million when the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany and Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs — both operated by the Proctors Collaborative — are included.
Proctors received $10 million under the Save Our Stages program, while the Capital Repertory Theatre and Universal Preservation Hall received $709,000 and $340,000, respectively, Morris said.
Still, the theaters sustained significant losses during the shutdown last year.
Hard times for Proctors
Proctors alone paid out $330,000 in overhead and maintenance expenses per month even after laying off 140 staffers, Morris said.
The theater was shuttered for 20 months.
In addition to the $10 million in federal assistance, the theater was also able to bring in $5 million in donations, Morris said.
“That money is why we’re here today,” he said.
A total of 35 positions have been brought back since the theater reopened, and Morris hopes to bring back additional positions in the months ahead.
Still, challenges exist.
“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” the theater’s first Broadway production, which wrapped on Sunday, sold “below” expectations, and audiences have been hesitant to return to live theater even after securing tickets, Morris said.
At the Capital Repertory Theatre, 35% of ticket holders didn’t show up at the venue’s first live show.
Morris is hoping to host between 500 and 600 events at Proctors next year and is aiming for around 1,800 in 2023.
Still, Morris said he believes the darkest days for live theater are in the past, even as cases continue to rise and a new, potentially more infectious variant looms. The theater already requires proof of vaccination to attend any events.
He said Proctors is looking at scheduling between 500 and 600 events next year and is aiming for around 1,800 in 2023.
“I’m optimistic that it’s people’s habits returning because going to the theater is a passion and it’s also a habit. It’s the thing you do for a night out,” he said. “So, as people get back in the habit of doing a night out, they’ll return to the theater. I’m pretty optimistic about that.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.