COVID-19, a crushing blow to the Southern California arts community

Alitzah Wiener-Dallas performs her show, “Twinkle Time.”

The closures of venues and limited gathering restrictions laid out by the county and state governments are causing postponed and canceled plays, concerts, and performances across the Southland.

The shutdowns are causing a bit of panic among Southern California actors, musicians, producers, and venues. Many are wondering how they will make a living during the work stoppage. If an actor or musician is not on-stage performing, they have to scramble to try and make rent and other living expenses.

The same dilemma goes for local producers that rely on the actors, musicians, and other performers to fill their venues with the live performances that their patrons come to see.

But even if there were not any restrictions in place, many patrons are too afraid to come and see a performance in a building that they fear may put them at risk of exposure to the Novel Coronavirus. That has led to many people merely staying away from public places.

The Segerstrom Center and Medieval Times employ Michelle Smith of Yucaipa. The closure of both venues may be a problem if she can’t return to work soon.

“Segerstrom isn’t paying us for any shifts that got canceled,” said Smith. “But what they are doing is trying to switch shifts that were for events, over to maintenance calls. And Medieval Times said they are closed until further notice. So no end date there.”

But performers who rely on themselves to book their gigs, and don’t get paid when they don’t perform are worried. Such is the case with Alitzah Wiener-Dallas, who tours the country to perform shows for children in her show “Twinkle Time.”

“We lost 40 plus gigs,” said Wiener-Dallas. “School assemblies, library shows, mall property shows, OC Día del Niño, A kids music festival in Philadelphia that had flights and hotels booked months ago. Easter festivals, private functions, and one performing art center. The list goes on, and on. None are being rescheduled. All canceled until next year. We have no income until the end of May.”

She and her husband, James Dallas, both do “Twinkle Time” as their full-time jobs.

“At the moment I put out on Facebook, I’ll babysit or teach,” said Wiener-Dallas. “I’m going to set up a daily live feed for kids every day starting next week.”

Not all venues are complying with the request to shut the doors. At the Grove Theatre in Upland, “Peter Pan” performs on.

“The cast worked too hard not to open,” Said The Groves Sherry Kinison. “They are keeping their hands to themselves. The world is in a frenzy with fear, and we knew for just a couple of hours we could take them to Neverland.”

The audience seemed to approve of the effort.

“The audience was so grateful that we were open,” said Kinison. “We did our duty to disinfect the seats all through the theatre, sanitizer is everywhere, we limited our audience to 150, and we have 400 seats, so the audience could sit where they were comfortable. Be careful and aware, but live your life.”

“We canceled our production of ‘Rowing To America: The Immigrant Project,’” said Carol Damgen, a full-time lecturer of theatre arts at Cal State San Bernardino. “We had five shows left, which we felt for the safety of our patrons, students, faculty, and staff it was best to end after our first weekend. Many of our subscribers are over the age of 50. Even though the cast is the average age of 20, many live with grandparents as their primary caregivers. It would be irresponsible to continue the show and put anyone at risk for the sake of the show must go on.

“Additionally, I have been told by Temecula Valley Players that my work as the director of ‘Cinderella’ slated for June is postponed until the fall.”

A message on IVRT’s website read, “We have been following the rapid development of information regarding COVID-19. In the best interest of all concerned, this morning IVRT’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to cancel the remaining three performances of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ as well as postpone our April/May production of ‘West Side Story.’”

Haley Saffel says her daughter Lindsey had two productions cancel or postpone on her.

“I feel sad. Kids need routine and structure,” said Saffel. “They also need to see familiar people and go to places and do things that they enjoy. It’s so important to keep their spirits up and to be with people that make them feel happy. I understand that precautions need to be taken, but we, as humans, should be able to make that choice for ourselves. Nobody is telling us that we have to attend. I feel the government has way too much control.”

As of this article, multiple, venues including, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, have closed the doors. Shows such as “Sister Act” at the Lewis Family Playhouse and “Tarzan” with Terrace View productions have stopped performing or are postponed.

“It hurts. as performers, we sacrifice a lot to do a show, said Charles Johnson of La Habra. “I was commuting from La Habra to Colton for rehearsals of ‘Tarzan’ for seven weeks. It’s also sad for producers and directors who funded and cast a production and put together a staff to have to cancel. It’s so depressing. I wish there’s something we could do. I’m just sad.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, gatherings of 250 people or more should be postponed or canceled, and groups of people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than10 people.

Even the Pantages had to close down performances of the hit national touring show “Hamilton.” The Pantages posted the following on their website.

“At the direction of Governor Gavin Newsom, performances of Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre will be suspended beginning this evening through Tuesday, March 31, in support of the well-being of the theatre-going public as well as those who work on the production, subject to ongoing assessment by County or State Health Authorities.”

“Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects,”said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now.”


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