Local performing arts organizations adapt and move forward during pandemic

COVID impact on the performing arts

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The performing arts continues to be one of the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic, and many in Savannah’s vibrant community are learning to reinvent themselves.

Ryan McMaken is the artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival, the Hostess City’s premiere 17-day music event. He explained what happened in Mid March, just days before the opening night.

“It was a quick rise and fall. We were promoting the festival, and then we found out we needed to pull back and cancel.”

McMaken said 2020 was set to be a record year for the 501 (c)3 nonprofit performing arts organization

“It was a big blow to us, just about to hit our ticket goal for the season, coming in strong, looking forward to a good 2020 season, and we had to undo all of that.”

COVID also impacted Matthew and Michelle Meece, owners of The Savannah Theatre. A sold out run of “Sister Act” was quickly halted.

“All of a sudden really quickly we shut down in the middle of our run..not knowing..maybe a couple of weeks until things calmed down,” Matthew Meece said.

A couple of weeks turned into more than six months for virtually every performing arts organization in the country. All of this has been devastating to the people who make their livelihood in this industry.

“We’ve got 35 employees, even though it’s a theater, a lot of people rely on the income. So, we had to let everybody go thinking it would be a short little break,” Meece explained.

McMaken agreed.

“We’re seeing all sectors of the arts getting furloughed and now losing jobs since PPP has run out, we’re hearing tough stories.”

According to the Georgia Council for the Arts, the creative industries in Georgia represent a combined $37 billion in revenue and 5% of all employment in the state. In addition to this, those industries draw millions of tourists to the state each year.

Visit Savannah Joseph Marinelli shared why this industry is so crucial to Savannah.

“The variety of arts that we have, from the performing arts to display arts, is what really attracts people. Magnificent Philharmonic, Savannah Music Festival, Voice Festival, etc.”

He also broke down the serious economic impact of these organizations.

“An event like the Savannah Music Festival brings tens of thousands of visitors into the city over 17 days. That impacts hotel stays, restaurant visits, shopping in our retail areas.”

And now, these artists are trying to move forward. The Savannah Theatre debuted its first show in almost half a year last week.

“We waited till we felt like we could safely put out product, only 25% capacity at first,” Meece explained.

Seating will be spaced and masks will be required. A new normal that allows them to perform.

If all goes to plan, the Music Festival will still happen next spring as well.

“March 23-April 3 we’ll have a springtime festival, mostly outdoors to allow for social distancing.”

Meece said now, more than ever, people need the arts to escape from the many tough issues in our society.

“If they come to our show for two hours maybe they’ll forget about all the things they’re worried about right now.”

And all he asks is for the community to support them.

"A lot of these people’s livelihoods, what they do for a living, they’re eager to get back to doing what they do. if you can support the local arts please do it. "

For more information on the Savannah Music Festival, click here.

For more information on shows at the Savannah Theatre, click here.

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