It’s a Saturday night and you have tickets to the big event. You’ve been looking forward to it all week and arrive at the venue buzzing with excitement. Remember that feeling of seeing a new show, hearing your favorite artist, and immersing yourself in a new experience that didn’t include social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizer, and temperature checks?

We, as much as everyone, are eager for the entertainment industry to return to in-person activities. In the past months, we’ve kept in contact with our clients to discuss both practical timelines + adaptations to reopen, as well as big ideas. We partner with firms for a variety of entertainment projects, from theaters to amusement parks and outdoor concerts to promotional structures; we’re sharing what we’ve seen + heard in the hopes that innovations in one entertainment segment can be successfully applied in another. Though we’ve all heard it many times, we truly are all in this together.

The challenge to reopen

Before we go any further, let’s discuss why our favorite entertainment venues + events aren’t currently holding traditional in-person events.

  • We can’t ignore the implications of what it means to have a packed house during a pandemic. The entertainment industry has a duty to keep its patrons, staff (ticket box agents, bartenders, stagehands + production personnel), and performers safe, starting with rehearsals and production work in the months leading up to opening night.
  • State + federal mandates have severely limited or closed entertainment venues.
  • Venue operators are looking into updates like touchless features + safer surfaces; solutions where egress + bathroom areas create bottlenecks; and staggering staff schedules to help decrease in-person exposure.
  • For many, financial viability requires nearly full occupancy, which makes social distancing impossible; many productions would be forced to close permanently rather than endure a second dark period.
  • Our partners are challenged to predict when to begin the process that leads up to opening night – staffing, scenery, lighting, costuming, rehearsals and selling tickets. Some may be forced to wait until mandates have loosened to begin, which would delay the show even longer.

Innovative ideas to reopen the entertainment industry

Venues

  • Outdoor + larger, if possible. Performances have moved to parks + parking lots, and even middle-of-nowhere fields. Once outdoors, chairs can be 6 ft apart or “boxes” can be roped off to keep groups together. In venues with fixed seating, consider relocating from the local concert hall to the professional baseball stadium, keeping maximum capacity in mind.
  • Indoor spaces with flexible seating have the upper hand – they can be more easily reconfigured for social distancing.
  • Immersive performances allow patrons + performers to spread throughout the entire space.

Venue repurpose

  • Drive-through events have gained popularity, from comedic performances at a drive-in movie theater to a choose-your-own Halloween adventure with different paths drivers can take.
  • Prior to COVID-19, a venue in Phoenix was interested in using its space as a daytime coffee shop as an additional revenue stream. Once it went dark as a performance venue, it was time to take the leap. A temporary fix could develop into a permanent additional revenue stream.
  • To keep its team employed, a fabrication shop without scenery + props projects might produce face shields, hand washing stations or outdoor dining booths while waiting for the curtain to fall on the pandemic.

Performance presentation

Instead of changing the venue where the show is performed, change the venue of where the show is viewed. While there’s no true replacement for a live event, a filmed or ticketed live streamed performance helps keep troupes employed and after so many months without attending an event, it can be a real treat.

  • Micro-shows have been a hot topic across the country. In some areas, orchestras + acting companies can be hired for backyard performances. In urban areas like New York City + London, smaller, neighborhood events could minimize the risk associated with taking public transportation to a venue elsewhere.
  • In events with huge draws, like crowds the size of entire cities, we have + will continue to see many move to broadcast + streaming. At the very beginning of the pandemic, millions watched Hamilton on Disney+ and millions more will watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year’s Eve ball drop (while always broadcasted, viewers won’t be invited to attend this year).
  • Zoom (the MVP of 2020) gives the opportunity to interact with audiences in a way that social distancing does not. Some send viewers a box full of props to follow along (think of a virtual murder mystery party with wildly talented performers). Others have used it as an opportunity to try something new, like a more traditional venue producing contemporary content.
  • At a recent Flaming Lips show, patrons + band members were all encased in personal bubbles. No idea is too wild at this point!

What comes next

2020 has proved to us that no one knows for sure what’s next, but we can make predictions.

  • Expect a renaissance of new ideas + content; we know some of our partners are currently workshopping new productions, doing the work now so that they can be closer to launch once mandates are lifted.
  • Anticipate that there will probably be a workforce generational gap like we’ve seen following the Great Recession. As younger entertainment production professionals leave the industry (or in some cases don’t even enter in the first place), future in-person events will rely heavily on older professionals and those just starting out in need of training.
  • Flexible spaces + small venues frequently have lower operating costs, smaller audiences and more ability to accommodate social distancing. Due to the anticipated workforce shortage, we expect it will be a challenge to staff larger events. This combined with safety-related limitations may make smaller events the easier point of entry.

Our partners are hopeful + ready for events in 2021, but we believe that reviving the entertainment industry won’t be like flipping a switch. Over the next several years, we’ll continue to watch innovations surface, including ones that develop out of a necessity, but find a permanent home in our culture. At Schaefer, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

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