The pandemic altered—and continues to alter—the lives of many people, in ways we’re just beginning to understand.
Just ask people who produce theatrical productions.
One of Southern California’s venerable theater venues closed indefinitely in mid-June. The Los Angeles Times reported: “When Center Theatre Group … announced that it was indefinitely pausing shows at the Mark Taper Forum—the creative beating heart of one of the country’s largest regional companies—a sense of deep sadness and acute anxiety resonate with theater leaders across the country. Center Theatre Group might be calling this a ‘pause,’ many said, but that word is a euphemism for a closure—what the entire theater ecosystem had to endure when the COVID shutdowns hit in March 2020. The hard lesson learned—during closures that in some cases lasted close to two years—is that audiences won’t quickly return in nearly the numbers needed to make budgets. The result is a painful, and unprecedented, contraction of regional theaters nationwide.”
The bad news: Some local theaters, like Palm Canyon Theatre, say they’re struggling. The good news: Other local theaters and theater companies seem to be faring better than most. Two Palm Springs-based companies (where the Independent has been a media sponsor for years), Dezart Performs and Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, told supporters their 2022-2023 seasons were among their best ever. The McCallum Theatre’s 2022-2023 season was its second-best ever in terms of ticket sales, CEO Mitch Gershenfeld told me a couple months back.
That said, these theaters all have built-in advantages. It’s a lot easier to sell enough tickets in smaller venues like the Palm Springs Woman’s Club (Dezart) and the Palm Springs Cultural Center (Desert Ensemble) than, say, the 739-seat Mark Taper Forum. The McCallum has a loyal and diverse customer base due, in part, to the sheer variety of productions it hosts.
All of this made me think back to a story Kevin Fitzgerald wrote a few months ago, about older adults who have not been as socially active since the shutdowns. This was the topic of a panel discussion at the Cal State San Bernardino-Palm Desert campus, organized by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, where nationwide attendance is down about 30 percent compared to pre-pandemic times.
“Recently we had an event here, and I asked one of our former OLLI members why she hadn’t come back to campus,” said Angela Allen, OLLI’s executive director, during the panel discussion. “… She said, ‘You know, Angela, it’s just so hard to come. And it was just so easy to stay home.’ So all of these things made me start thinking: Is there something going on here? Is there some kind of a syndrome, a group of symptoms that are going on? There’s fear, depression and loneliness that seem to be (affecting) our senior population.”
Most of us, more or less, have fully returned to life as we knew it before the shutdowns. But not all of us have—and society is feeling the impact.
Note: This is a slightly edited version of the editor’s note that appeared in the July 2023 print edition. Another version of this column was originally published online in the June 19 Indy Digest.
A Note From the Editor: Theaters Continue to Struggle Post-Pandemic is a story from Coachella Valley Independent, the Coachella Valley’s alternative news source.