COVID-19 leaves ‘enormous impact’ on Charleston performing arts community

VIDEO: COVID-19 impacts on Lowcountry fine arts

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) -Performing arts organizations across Charleston are working to reinvent their upcoming seasons as the pandemic brings financial and logistical challenges to the industry.

The director of the Village Repertory Company, Keely Enright, said COVID-19′s financial strain led to the tough decision to leave the

Woolfe Street Playhouse downtown.

“We couldn’t continue to throw that kind of money at this massive rent if I can’t even get to half the house,” Enright said.

For the first time in 20 years, the company will now be performing outside at various venues like the Tradesman Brewing Company starting Friday.

“I didn’t want to walk away from live theater so it was a matter of, ‘okay we will bring the theater to you if that’s what we have to do to keep the theater company alive and going through this weird time,’” Enright said.

Julian Wiles with Charleston Stage Company said he’s urging state lawmakers to keep funding available for the arts despite the pandemic. Otherwise, Wiles said without help, it could mean the end of many well-established organizations.

“It could be a long-term impact and so we’re really asking for the state is as they look at the budget is that they continue the arts funding as it’s been there in the past,” Wiles said. “Keeping us intact, or at least able to reopen once we get back is really important not just to Charleston Stage and to the people who come to our shows, but to the entire economy of our state.”

Between orchestras, theatres and festivals like Spoleto, the arts add $9.7 billion to the state’s economy through jobs, tax revenue, and spending, Wiles said.

Although the Charleston Symphony Orchestra is offering live, virtual concerts this year, executive director Michael Smith says 70 percent of their subscribers would prefer to get back in the hall sooner rather than later.

“I think we have a plan, but it’s going to be a monumental task to get through this, through the season,” Smith said. “While orchestras across the country are shutting down and just canceling their season, we’re continuing to try and find ways to be scrappy and continue to deliver live, classical music to the Charleston community so yeah, it’s critical for us.”

Smith said the orchestra has also felt the financial strain of the pandemic.

“We rely about seven or eight percent of our revenues come from the accommodations tax from the City of Charleston and you can imagine that with tourism being so significantly impacted in Charleston, that was sort of gone overnight,” Smith said.

The symphony has postponed in-person performances until October 23.

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