The COVID-19 surge prompts a growing number Cleveland-area arts venues to press pause
Northeast Ohio arts venues and organizations continue to shut down performances and exhibitions in the wake of the latest COVID-19 surge.
“Very tough times here,” said Fred Bidwell, Cleveland arts entrepreneur and longtime observer of the local cultural scene. Bidwell made the call Tuesday to shut down an exhibition at his Transformer Station gallery on the city’s West Side.
“Again, the arts and culture sector gets hit hardest, gets hit first and is likely to be the last to recover,” he said. “So frustrating.”
That frustration has research to back it up. A national study released in 2020 by McKinsey & Company predicted that it would take the arts sector five years to truly recover.
Last Friday, the Cleveland Play House (CPH) canceled the final week of its holiday musical "Light It Up!" after members of the cast and crew tested positive for COVID-19.
A news release stated that the decision was made "out of an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of the actors, musicians, and crew appearing in the production."
Artistic Director Laura Kepley noted in the release that everyone at CPH is fully vaccinated.
"In spite of vaccinations, regular testing, and other safety protocols, members of the cast/crew experienced breakthrough cases of COVID. We are grateful that the few people who tested positive are asymptomatic or experiencing only mild symptoms," she said. “While heartbroken to close this joyful and uplifting show six days early, we recognize we are not alone as several theatres on Broadway and across the country are in similar situations. We thank our audiences for their compassion, understanding, and support as we continue to navigate this ever-evolving global pandemic."
More theater productions canceled performances as this week got underway.
The Playhouse Square (PHS) touring production of “Wicked” canceled its Monday and Tuesday performances and Wednesday matinee, with the intention of re-opening on Wednesday evening, according to a spokesperson. "Right now our first priority is taking care of our guests, and with staff vacations due to holiday time, it is all hands on deck for that."
Beck Center in Lakewood announced in a news release that its Wednesday and Thursday performances of “Elf the Musical” were canceled, but said the plan was to resume the rest of the run through January 2nd. The Akron Civic Theater’s single Tuesday night performance of a different show, “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Musical,” was canceled following a positive COVID-19 test result for a crew member.
Area music performance venues are also reacting to the latest pandemic surge. Over the weekend, a COVID-19 case in the Cleveland Orchestra prompted the cancellation of two Sunday concerts. A couple of Thursday night offerings at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern on Cleveland’s eastside have been postponed or canceled, according to the club’s web page. And the West Side Happy Dog announced on Facebook that it was shutting down operations through Christmas.
There seems to be an intention for many venues to forge ahead next week. It’s a hard-fought hope coming at the end of a challenging year. For instance, a performance of music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at the Market Garden Brewpub on West 25th Street is still on, according to owner Sam McNulty.
“In 2020, we closed twice. First on March 15th and then again in November," he said. “I think, like the rest of the world, we were trying whatever we were told might work. This go around, we're going to stay the course.”
Like many of his colleagues across the city, McNulty points to safety measures put in place, ranging from a vaccinated staff to improved air handling in the venue. And he encourages patrons to be part of the solution.
“And the way we do that is by everybody getting vaccinated,” he said. “It's pretty simple when you think about it and it's not a political statement. I don't think science can or should be politicized. This virus doesn't discriminate based on political persuasion, and neither should we."
Some of the limited closings noted above are subject to change. We will update as information comes in.