Grand Opera House lights up blue to honor first responders

Grand Opera House lights up blue to honor first responders

Over half of the staff at The Grand was laid off Monday as concerns about the future, and present, of the live entertainment industry continues during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Fields, Executive Director of The Grand, told WDEL that the non-profit tried everything it could to keep its staff of 33 members intact, before laying off 19. 

"We haven't been able to put on a performance since early March. We had survived as long as we could throughout the spring and into the summer with the PPP money from the federal government and other grants and support, it was becoming increasingly clear that we weren't going to be able to open again anytime soon. For the preservation for the institution itself, we took some steps to conserve our resources. It was a very difficult decision to make. These are people who have worked long and hard for The Grand, and have gotten us to the place where we are, we just don't have any programming up in the near-term to give them something to do."

As of Monday night, the only future programming listed on The Grand's website are Concerts by Car behind held at Frawley Stadium and a Rock'n Doo-Wop Dance Party set for Copeland Hall on October 3.

"Even though theaters are permitted to open under the governor's guidelines, the combination of the capacity limits and the social distancing that is required reduced the capacity of 1,200 seats space like The Grand or The Playhouse down to 350 seats or so. It's not possible to do shows at the caliber we want to do them with that few tickets available for sale."

After four months of social distancing, Fields said a big concern he has is whether getting 1,200 people into The Grand or Playhouse will be even attainable right away.

"That's part of the problem--are people going to feel safe going into an enclosed space like a theater? The very nature of what attending a live performance is is some of the most risky behavior in terms of being in a room full of people, even if socially distanced. You're there for an hour or two, you have somebody, or several somebodies on stage with their mouths open, whether they are singing or playing an instrument, it's just a situation I don't think a lot of people feel comfortable with. Even if we were to put a tour together, and we could manage the economics of the situation, we would still have a challenge persuading people it's worth a risk."

Fields said the whole situation from the layoffs to the challenges for the industry remains frustrating.

"It's heartbreaking. We've faced a lot of challenges, but there's really nothing that's happened in my career that comes close to the threat this represents. The only thing about it is everybody is facing it at the same time. It's a challenge the entire industry is facing, and it's going to call on us to be as innovative and creative as we can be, as we try to lure people back. To communicate to the public what's at stake here, and to find other ways to get our art in front of the public."

The last major cut The Grand Opera House made to its staff was in 2013, when about one-quarter of its workforce down to about two dozen.