It didn’t seem that bad a week ago. Blue Pig Presents concert promoter Hamilton Byrd had just put on a successful Corb Lund concert March 12 (which even extended to a spontaneous serenade for members of the Legislature), and he was convinced his March 13 The Unlikely Candidates show would go on.
But when the venue, Array, canceled the booking the day before, Byrd got his first glimpse into the gravity of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“In that instance, I’m like, ‘Dang, I wish I had spent more time keeping my ears open,’” Byrd said, reflecting on his decision to still have the concert, but switch the venue to Terry Bison Ranch. “As the pandemic has grown, it’s become really clear what the right and wrong things to do are, and the right thing to do is to minimize spread.”
On Thursday, Gov. Mark Gordon ordered all public places to close (including theaters, bars, nightclubs and other traditional performing arts venues) for a two-week period to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But by then, most Cheyenne arts and entertainment organizations had already canceled their spring performances.
One such group was Cheyenne Chamber Singers. The choir’s March 22 concert repertoire will now be folded into its May 22 concert, government permitting. But Artistic Director Sean Ambrose isn’t worried about his volunteer vocal group. He’s worried about people who make a living performing and producing art full-time.
“I have a lot of friends around the country who are gig-based musicians, and they’re scrambling,” he said. “A gig gets canceled, you don’t get paid, that’s the way it works. With Chamber Singers, we’re trying to be supportive of other organizations in town that are maybe financially worse off than we are. My involvement with Cheyenne Little Theatre Players (for example) is pretty huge, and we’re going to have some really tough choices in front of us in the next month.”
Ambrose is a member-at-large of the CLTP Board of Directors, which decided to cancel all remaining performances of the group’s latest production, “The Wind in the Willows,” before the ban was put in place. He said if the theater must cancel its spring musical, “Cabaret,” CLTP could face a shortfall of $30,000 – and still has to pay the mortgage and three employees.
CLTP Managing Director Todd Martin was in meetings most of the day Wednesday, determining what steps the community theater will take next, and one result was the closure of the theater office to both the public and theater team. Beyond the end of Gov. Gordon’s ban April 3, the future is still foggy.
“It’s just unfortunate, but I think everyone in the community is doing what’s best to protect our community,” Martin said. “Especially as a volunteer-based organization, we’re making decisions we think will be best for our community and volunteers. We’re looking forward to being able to see everybody again as soon as possible.”
Another organization Ambrose mentioned is Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra, which, as of Thursday, had postponed both its March 21 “Mahler and Beethoven” concert and the much-anticipated April 25 “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie concert.
“Our (Chamber Singers) members are teachers in town or lawyers or members of the military ... so they’re not dependent on us to do our performance and pay them so they can pay rent, whereas the symphony gig is a portion of those players’ regular income streams,” Ambrose said.
Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra Director Lindsey Bird Reynolds said CSO’s current focus is on the health and wellness of its staff and patrons, but she also echoed Ambrose’s worries.
“One of the primary concerns we have is for our musicians,” she said. “So many of them are professional musicians, and their primary source of income is performing in concerts and teaching private lessons, and both of those revenue sources are being affected … I think many musicians will feel a huge financial impact, especially because the summer is usually a slower time anyway.”
Like many other residents, Bird Reynolds is trying to support local businesses at this time by ordering takeout and consuming other local products while social distancing. For those who want to support artists affected by the pandemic, she suggests ticket holders consider their ticket to the postponed concerts a donation to the orchestra, rather than asking for a refund.
Adrianna True, founder of theater company True Troupe, recently decided to postpone her upcoming production of “Adults” until May. She also changed the audition process for the troupe’s cabaret show to video submission-only to avoid interaction with anyone who might have COVID-19.
Until the group is able to take the stage again, she said they’re trying to come up with ways to serve both local performers and audiences.
So far, she and her team have considered recording acting workshops to be accessed online, utilizing Facebook Live for at-home educational and/or performance opportunities, and a project that would provide recorded monologues and songs to nursing home residents in quarantine.
All of these ideas are in the early stages, but True is hopeful that she and the troupe can find a way to provide an artistic escape to the people of Cheyenne.
“I think people devalue the arts until they really need them, and the thing about it is everyone is stuck in their homes, or even if they’re going to work, they’re not going to a play or the movies, so people are turning to art, turning to music, to TV, to artists who are streaming online and things like that,” she said. “I think we forget how important art is until we have a crisis when art brings us together.”
To support struggling performers and venues, True suggested taking to social media. Of course, everyone appreciates financial donations, she said, but those who can’t afford to do so can always afford to donate their time by liking a social media page or writing a positive review online.
Byrd, who is a truck driver by day, said that though he will take a financial hit from having to cancel and/or postpone several Blue Pig Presents shows, he has more sympathy for booking agents and his fellow promoters who rely on gigs as their main source of income.
“I’ve done what I can do. It’s the agent going to every single promoter and then promoters going to every single venue (who do the work) – it’s a lengthy process,” he said. “I’m glad I’m not a booking agent. Then I’d be broke and running around stressed, but this way I’m just broke.”
Although he admitted he’s in a less-than-ideal position right now, Byrd said he’s optimistic after seeing the music industry’s response to this pandemic. Every agent he’s worked with has been helpful, and most aren’t being sticklers about strict contract clauses that might not allow them to reschedule.
Plus, just think about all of the great songwriting material that will come out of being cooped up for weeks on end, he added with a laugh.
“Take all the artsy people and tell them they’re not allowed to perform for two months, then there are going to be some really badass results,” Byrd said. “There will be a lot of creativity hopefully getting funneled into the right places, and we can hopefully enjoy the dividends that pays … I see people confidently talking about concerts in June, and that’s close enough that we can see the light.”