Challenging times for entertainment venue operators looking to draw audiences, but many are hopeful

"The Irish and How They Got That Way" enjoyed solid attendance at Capital Repertory Theatre. (Doug Liebig)
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"The Irish and How They Got That Way" enjoyed solid attendance at Capital Repertory Theatre. (Doug Liebig)

While performers have returned to theaters around the Capital Region, audiences have been tougher to get back.

“Over the last couple of months, our goal has been to get people back into the theater and it’s been extremely difficult because of the COVID situation,” said Peter Max, who runs Curtain Call Theatre in Latham with Carol Max.

They’ve taken the COVID-19 precautions that have become standard, including requiring proof of vaccination and masks. They’re also limiting the number of audience members and have refrained from opening their concession stand.

However, they haven’t seen full houses yet. They also had to cancel their production of “Villainous Company,” which was slated to open later this month, because one of the actors came down with COVID-19.

“It’s just a sign of the times. I believe that the theater audiences will come back full force, it’s just a matter of time,” Max said.

At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, things were looking hopeful in the fall.

“When we restarted in October we saw great attendance and it seemed people were ready to experience live music again,” said Executive Director Jon Elbaum.

They were averaging around 700 audience members per show.

“When omicron hit, all of our January performances were either canceled or rescheduled, as well as a few in February. And people seem much more reluctant to purchase tickets to shows, especially in advance. Ticket sales have really slowed down across the board,” Elbaum said.

Judging from advance ticket sales, he estimates that upcoming shows may have fewer than half of the 700 audience members they were seeing on average in the fall.

“We hope that, as omicron fades, we’ll be able to get back to where we ought to be in terms of attendance,” Elbaum said.

At Proctors and theREP, which have presented many shows over the last few weeks and are set to be busy well into the spring season, attendance has been up and down.

“Attendance has been very robust for some shows and disappointing for others. That pattern is not unusual for any large slate of shows. Not every show is a theatrical home run,” said Jim Murphy, the director of marketing and corporate relations.

“We have one upcoming Proctors show very near-sellout for all performances. ‘The Irish and How They Got That Way’ did very well around the holidays at theREP. We know for certain the pandemic is having an impact on sales but it’s impossible to quantify. Some people are staying away despite our best efforts to make their experience here as safe as possible, and some are staying away because they disagree with our vaccination and mask protocols. Other venues locally report the same challenges to us.”

Albany’s Palace Theatre has seen smaller audiences in general.

“Since reopening in the summer of 2021, ticket sales have been down overall, a trend we are certainly hearing echoed from venues both locally and nationally,” said Sean Allen, the director of marketing at the theater.

“The overall sales trends seem to fluctuate based on what is going on around us. Whether it is overall sales being down or the number of sold tickets going unused, every month since reopening has brought its own unique set of circumstances that have affected sales or attendance in one way or another. As we start to roll through the month of February we are finding that sales and attendance numbers are starting to pick back up again to more ‘normal’ levels, which is certainly a positive sign overall.”

From the perspective of Gazette theater reviewer Matthew G. Moross, audience attendance on average is far from what it was before the pandemic began.

“Most venues are lucky to get half a house after the opening night crowd,” Moross said.

However, he added that theaters like Curtain Call and Proctors are doing what they can to make attendees feel welcome and safe, including addressing any seating concerns and ensuring that antibacterial wipes are available.

From Allen’s perspective, the fluctuations in audience attendance are to be expected in the face of COVID-19 variants.

“I think many venues anticipate that things like this will continue to occur as we continue to navigate the current situation, but we are happy to be able to be open, welcoming audiences and presenting performances in the safest way possible. The performing arts and live music are cathartic and joyous, and that is definitely much needed,” Allen said.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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