Arts

Tri-Valley theater venues grappling with shutdowns

Performance cancellations now expected to last more than a year

Prominent signage alerts passersby to the closure of the Firehouse Arts Center, which has been shut off to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter orders arrived in March. (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

Entertainment venues have been sadly empty for nine months, Firehouse Arts Center and Bankhead Theater devoid of live performances and patrons.

Chris Carter, executive director of Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, says everyone has been flexible as events are reshuffled but he looks forward to the empty seats in the Bankhead Theater being filled again. (Contributed photo)

In March when everything shut down, events were rescheduled -- then rescheduled again and yet again as the virus continues its inexorable sweep.

Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center Executive Director Chris Carter is currently once more pushing back the Bankhead performance for flamenco guitarist Ottmar Liebert who was to appear Feb. 24.

"People bought those tickets last year, originally scheduled for the summer, then it was moved to February," Carter said.

He is rescheduling everything planned through April 2021 at this point and does not expect live performances to be back at full speed before next fall.

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The Bankhead Theater needs to fill 60% of its seats to cover costs, he said, so it makes sense to stay closed until it can fully reopen.

"That doesn't mean we can't do some things, like films. And we are looking at local artists and some of the renters and local companies -- the opera, the symphony," Carter explained. "So they might decide to go ahead with something, and we will totally support it."

About 30%-40% of Bankhead performances are by local resident companies or promoters who rent the venue. The rest are presented each season by the LVPAC, which is an independent nonprofit organization that operates the Bankhead Theater as well as the Bothwell Arts Center.

"In March we were staring at this and saying, "Oh, my God, what are we going to do?'" Carter remembered. "We had to tell 85% of the staff they couldn't come in, and those remaining had to take a big pay cut."

LVPAC has joined with a couple dozen other venues in Alameda County that are independent, not run by a large organization or a city, to raise awareness of how tenuous the times are for performing arts. The city of Livermore owns the Bankhead building and leases it to LVPAC but does not provide operational funding.

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"Hopefully county, state and federal relief will help us get through these times," Carter said. "Fortunately as a nonprofit we can raise money or we would be in very dire trouble."

The Best of the Bankhead fundraiser held virtually in late November generated $200,000, Carter said. This was not the highest amount ever raised at the annual gala but, due to lack of expenses, it netted more, which will help defray the $2 million lost from ticket sales this year.

"It's just been really remarkable for me to see the outpouring of support from the community to help ensure our survival," Carter said. "I feel confident we're going to get through this."

Firehouse Arts Center, run by the city of Pleasanton, also has undergone turmoil, said Tamara Whitney, recreation manager for civic arts and special events.

Whitney recalled the initial reaction in March when everything had to be postponed for two weeks. All city staff members are considered disaster service workers, she explained, and the theater staff were quickly repositioned to fill new roles, including helping at Open Heart Kitchen and staffing child care sites.

"Our theater technicians are now deployed into our operations team, working in park services and maintenance," Whitney said. "Some theater staff are working in the library, helping to shelve books because that is where the need is at the moment."

With the Firehouse shuttered and all live performances on hold, the theater is partnering with some performers popular in Pleasanton with a ticket-split, Whitney said.

"We've had great success with groups that have played at the Firehouse before," she said. "We Banjo 3 sold out in 2017, and we brought them back for two shows in 2018."

This year's We Banjo 3 show will be online at 8 p.m. Friday night (Dec. 18); for tickets, go to www.firehousearts.org.

We Banjo 3, which has proved popular in Pleasanton, is holding a performance being presented virtually by the Firehouse Arts Center. (Contributed photo)

Instead of booking acts months in advance, lead times can now be as brief as four weeks, Whitney said, and she suggested staying current by checking the website and the Facebook page.

Some city programs have gone virtual including the Creatures of Impulse teen improv troupe, who record from home.

"We are also looking to expand into family programming," Whitney said. "It's a unique time for families, finding something to do, staying close and being safe in your own home."

The staff worked with TV30 to produce this year's online Hometown Holiday Celebration with highlights from past parades as well as this year's tree lighting by Mayor Jerry Thorne in front of Museum on Main. It can be viewed at www.tri-valleytv.org.

The Harrington Gallery inside the Firehouse Arts Center has an online exhibit, "Art in Place," but is closed to the public and staff, along with the rest of the facility.

"We are in lockstep with the health order," Whitney said. "We want to wait to open our space for staff and for performers until it's really safe to do so."

Carter has been impressed with everyone's understanding during this difficult time.

"Everybody is really being flexible," he said. "Nobody's complained or demanded anything. It's actually been a good experience in helping us to bridge those connections with performers and agents within the industry."

He noted that when he calls agents, he often finds representation has changed, some agencies have closed and others have opened.

"It has been disruptive for the whole industry -- venues, artists, agents," he said. "The domino affect has been pretty amazing."

Prices are also fluctuating.

"I have been talking to some that have been out of my price range, who now say, 'Send me an offer,'" he noted.

LVPAC has teamed for online performances this month with the band Pink Martini and fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, who are beloved by local audiences.

But both Carter and Whitney said that although everyone has risen to the occasion during these difficult times, they are looking forward to seeing patrons in the seats.

"I look forward to having everyone join us in our space as soon as we can," Whitney said. "I really miss everyone."

'Tickets to Thrive'

Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center is holding an end-of-year fundraising drive, asking patrons to consider what they spend on entertainment in a year and donate that amount to help defray the $2 million the Bankhead Theater has lost in ticket sales. Any donation of $250 or more to the campaign this month qualifies for a $100 ticket certificate toward "Bankhead Presents" shows. For more information, visit livermorearts.org.

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Tri-Valley theater venues grappling with shutdowns

Performance cancellations now expected to last more than a year

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 31, 2020, 3:42 pm

Entertainment venues have been sadly empty for nine months, Firehouse Arts Center and Bankhead Theater devoid of live performances and patrons.

In March when everything shut down, events were rescheduled -- then rescheduled again and yet again as the virus continues its inexorable sweep.

Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center Executive Director Chris Carter is currently once more pushing back the Bankhead performance for flamenco guitarist Ottmar Liebert who was to appear Feb. 24.

"People bought those tickets last year, originally scheduled for the summer, then it was moved to February," Carter said.

He is rescheduling everything planned through April 2021 at this point and does not expect live performances to be back at full speed before next fall.

The Bankhead Theater needs to fill 60% of its seats to cover costs, he said, so it makes sense to stay closed until it can fully reopen.

"That doesn't mean we can't do some things, like films. And we are looking at local artists and some of the renters and local companies -- the opera, the symphony," Carter explained. "So they might decide to go ahead with something, and we will totally support it."

About 30%-40% of Bankhead performances are by local resident companies or promoters who rent the venue. The rest are presented each season by the LVPAC, which is an independent nonprofit organization that operates the Bankhead Theater as well as the Bothwell Arts Center.

"In March we were staring at this and saying, "Oh, my God, what are we going to do?'" Carter remembered. "We had to tell 85% of the staff they couldn't come in, and those remaining had to take a big pay cut."

LVPAC has joined with a couple dozen other venues in Alameda County that are independent, not run by a large organization or a city, to raise awareness of how tenuous the times are for performing arts. The city of Livermore owns the Bankhead building and leases it to LVPAC but does not provide operational funding.

"Hopefully county, state and federal relief will help us get through these times," Carter said. "Fortunately as a nonprofit we can raise money or we would be in very dire trouble."

The Best of the Bankhead fundraiser held virtually in late November generated $200,000, Carter said. This was not the highest amount ever raised at the annual gala but, due to lack of expenses, it netted more, which will help defray the $2 million lost from ticket sales this year.

"It's just been really remarkable for me to see the outpouring of support from the community to help ensure our survival," Carter said. "I feel confident we're going to get through this."

Firehouse Arts Center, run by the city of Pleasanton, also has undergone turmoil, said Tamara Whitney, recreation manager for civic arts and special events.

Whitney recalled the initial reaction in March when everything had to be postponed for two weeks. All city staff members are considered disaster service workers, she explained, and the theater staff were quickly repositioned to fill new roles, including helping at Open Heart Kitchen and staffing child care sites.

"Our theater technicians are now deployed into our operations team, working in park services and maintenance," Whitney said. "Some theater staff are working in the library, helping to shelve books because that is where the need is at the moment."

With the Firehouse shuttered and all live performances on hold, the theater is partnering with some performers popular in Pleasanton with a ticket-split, Whitney said.

"We've had great success with groups that have played at the Firehouse before," she said. "We Banjo 3 sold out in 2017, and we brought them back for two shows in 2018."

This year's We Banjo 3 show will be online at 8 p.m. Friday night (Dec. 18); for tickets, go to www.firehousearts.org.

Instead of booking acts months in advance, lead times can now be as brief as four weeks, Whitney said, and she suggested staying current by checking the website and the Facebook page.

Some city programs have gone virtual including the Creatures of Impulse teen improv troupe, who record from home.

"We are also looking to expand into family programming," Whitney said. "It's a unique time for families, finding something to do, staying close and being safe in your own home."

The staff worked with TV30 to produce this year's online Hometown Holiday Celebration with highlights from past parades as well as this year's tree lighting by Mayor Jerry Thorne in front of Museum on Main. It can be viewed at www.tri-valleytv.org.

The Harrington Gallery inside the Firehouse Arts Center has an online exhibit, "Art in Place," but is closed to the public and staff, along with the rest of the facility.

"We are in lockstep with the health order," Whitney said. "We want to wait to open our space for staff and for performers until it's really safe to do so."

Carter has been impressed with everyone's understanding during this difficult time.

"Everybody is really being flexible," he said. "Nobody's complained or demanded anything. It's actually been a good experience in helping us to bridge those connections with performers and agents within the industry."

He noted that when he calls agents, he often finds representation has changed, some agencies have closed and others have opened.

"It has been disruptive for the whole industry -- venues, artists, agents," he said. "The domino affect has been pretty amazing."

Prices are also fluctuating.

"I have been talking to some that have been out of my price range, who now say, 'Send me an offer,'" he noted.

LVPAC has teamed for online performances this month with the band Pink Martini and fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, who are beloved by local audiences.

But both Carter and Whitney said that although everyone has risen to the occasion during these difficult times, they are looking forward to seeing patrons in the seats.

"I look forward to having everyone join us in our space as soon as we can," Whitney said. "I really miss everyone."

'Tickets to Thrive'

Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center is holding an end-of-year fundraising drive, asking patrons to consider what they spend on entertainment in a year and donate that amount to help defray the $2 million the Bankhead Theater has lost in ticket sales. Any donation of $250 or more to the campaign this month qualifies for a $100 ticket certificate toward "Bankhead Presents" shows. For more information, visit livermorearts.org.

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