Downtown Theaters get help with pandemic shortfalls

The Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou Theatre are recent recipients for a combined $4.8 million in grants to help make up the shortfalls they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Tennessee received $3.771 million and the Bijou received $1.083 million through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. 

Becky Hancock, the Tennessee Theatre’s executive director, said the funds were based on the recipients’ 2019 revenues. Venues received less than half of those revenues, with a cap of $10 million. The grants allow recipients to recoup expenses in 2020 and 2021, including but not limited to payroll, ticket refunds, utilities, maintenance and repair, insurance, taxes, and fees.

“Our revenues dropped 87 percent last year,” Hancock says. “Of course we didn’t have some of the same expenses, but we still had a building to take care of and contractual obligations. This grant will help us make up for expenses we incurred during the shutdown.” 

Arts programming is beginning to return to a normal schedule. Names like Erick Baker and Melissa Etheridge brought performances to the theaters in August. Both theaters are planning full calendars this fall. Hancock hopes the delta variant of COVID-19 does not derail performances. 

“If I learned one thing last year, it’s that it’s really hard to look too far into the future. And that’s challenging for an industry that plans far ahead for productions,” she says. “A lot of artists and productions are trying to get the show on the road. We started selling tickets to fall shows in the spring, and response has been tremendous. But we’re only making firm plans a few weeks out. We’ll plan well and be flexible and respond when we need to.”

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