Sponsored by:

Venues feeling the pressure of lost entertainment, revenue

  • The interior of the Park Theatre in Jaffrey is nearing completion. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • The interior of the Park Theatre in Jaffrey is nearing completion. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/12/2020 5:09:12 PM
Modified: 10/12/2020 5:09:00 PM

For 15 years, the folks dedicated to revitalizing the Park Theatre worked tirelessly to see the longtime Jaffrey institution return.

But when the nonprofit group was established in 2005, no one could have envisioned that upon the building’s complete reconstruction that its expected open would be delayed by a global pandemic.

After construction began on the final day of 2018, Steve Jackson, CEO, Managing Director of The Park Theatre, said the goal was to unveil the new state of the art historic theatre this past summer. But with less than two months remaining in the year, the chances of a grand opening in 2020 are slim.

“Exactly when that date is, who knows,” Jackson said. “Nothing is going to happen over night.”

Jackson is hopeful for some programming this year, but without a date for a vaccine and people’s hesitation to attend indoor events, it is unclear how the community would respond to a soft opening.

“We’re looking at the horizon ahead to see what we can do,” Jackson said. “It’s been a tough, long battle, but as an organization, we’ve built up an armor because we’ve been through many ups and downs and this is not going to be forever.”

While the construction phase is complete, Jackson said they are still working on fundraising for theater equipment, as well as items for concessions and the box office. But if not for COVID-19, they would be operational, Jackson said.

“We know people want to get in the theater and we want to open it,” Jackson said. “But we only will open per the guidelines by the state.”

While Jackson points to the fact that as a nonprofit, there’s more of a cushion to work with, “there’s no question that we lost a lot of revenue not being able to open as planned,” he said.

Jackson said that since the pandemic hit before they had gone through the hiring process, he is the only paid employee at this time, but added that “if we had, we would have had to furlough people.”

“It’s not easy, so we’re being as careful as we can with our dollars,” Jackson said.

Scheduling programming has been difficult, but Jackson feels comfortable at looking ahead to next fall as a safe time to start.

“Between now and next summer, it’s going to be much more fluid,” he said.

He pointed to the fact that to be able sustain the theater, they need a lot of programming, but when they get the green light, it will be bustling.

“There’s nothing worse than when you have a theater that is dark,” Jackson said.

One of the hardest hit industries in the entertainment world has been movie theaters. Not only are people hesitant about going to see a film in an enclosed space with others, but the production side of the business has all but come to a halt and new releases are being released straight to streaming services.

Vanessa Amsbury-Bonilla never thought the Peterborough Community Theatre’s hiatus would last through the summer and into the fall – with no real end in sight.

After almost four months of being closed, Amsbury-Bonilla and her husband Kevin Goohs reopened the theater in mid-July, but it only lasted one week simply because no one was showing up. That’s when she started a GoFundMe page because without support, the theater that has been in operation since 1914 would not make it. The fund brought in just under $14,000 and helped navigate the uncertain times and now a new business model is keeping things afloat.

“Obviously the town really values the theater,” she said.

Theater rentals have gone extremely well since the middle of the summer, with July and August serving as the best months as Amsbury-Bonilla was doing three rentals a day, seven days a week.

“I didn’t have a day off for two months,” she said. “That shows just how much response we had.”

Things have slowed down a bit since kids went back to school, but it is enough to keep the theater moving forward – which is all Amsbury-Bonilla can ask for.

“What we’ve discovered is that people want this, need this,” she said.

Amsbury-Bonilla said they have always offered theater rentals, but drastically dropped the cost to make it more affordable. For nine people, the price is $75 for a showing, while it jumps to $100 for 10 to 20 people.

“The price is affordable and people want normalcy,” she said. “People want to do things that feel safe and normal and they get to choose who’s in that bubble with them. And I’m so happy we’re able to offer this to people.”

While Amsbury-Bonilla can’t show new movies, people can bring in their phones and connect to the theater’s Wifi and stream anything they want from services like Disney+ or Netflix. Some choose to watch TV shows, while others have used it to play Playstation or Xbox.

There is extra work involved with the rentals, mostly the extra cleaning and sanitizing, but it’s what has to be done. And she anticipates they will be doing it for a while.

“This is probably a full year of this new business model,” she said. “But we want the theater to continue. We want to see the other side of this pandemic.”

Amsbury-Bonilla said they need 30 reservations a month to break even.

“We’re keeping the lights on and that’s the only thing that matters,” she said.

In addition to the venues, the performers are also feeling the effects from no work over the last seven months, like the musical pair of Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak of Peterborough.

While their story of lost gigs is going to be similar to most other musicians, since just about every musical performance has been canceled since March, it doesn’t make it any easier.

Nagle estimates that the couple’s music accounts for about 60 percent of their yearly income and for more than half a year there hasn’t been any. The had two small tours with their band Ishna canceled – including another set for the UK in March – and Novak’s work on Broadway might not resume for two years, Nagle said of recent discussions.

“It’s a massive dent,” Nagle said.

He said booking has picked up a bit and that they’re holding some dates for next year “in the hope that everything finds a way to be operational.”

Nagle said they have done some in person performances and livestreaming.

“They’re not going to pay your bills,” he said. “But it’s something, it’s some way to perform in front of people.”

But unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing when live performances will resume. And there has been nothing in terms of relief funds to help offset the losses.

“As musicians, we have nothing,” he said. “And musicians and artists have just been shut down with no end in sight. People are just guessing as to how we can open up and get back on stage.”

So in the meantime, they’ve been focusing on the music and some of those projects that always seemed to get pushed to the back burner.

“Its allowed us to get more into the creative process,” he said. “Music is like oxygen for us and this definitely puts it all into perspective.”

Art galleries too have been forced to keep people away for the most part. Fry Fine Art in Peterborough has yet to reopen and the same can be said about the Dublin Community Center, which also typically hosts indoor music events.

The Jaffrey Civic Center and the Mariposa Museum have held a few shows under strict protocols. The Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough is currently hosting Monadnock Art’s annual exhibition.

Music venues like Harlow’s Pub and Nelson’s Candies have yet to resume their live performances and there is no way of telling when that might happen.

But it’s safe to say without a lot going on in terms of music, art or movies, people will be ready to go back – when it is deemed safe to do so.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, your source for Peterborough area news.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

20 Grove St.
Peterborough, NH 03458


© 2021 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy