Warner Theatre to receive federal funds, plans fall reopening

Photo via The Warner Theater Facebook page.
Photo via The Warner Theater Facebook page.

TORRINGTON — The federal government has funded an economic assistance program for arts and entertainment venues across the country.
The $15 billion assistance program, known as Save Our Stages, was part of the latest $2.3 trillion COVID relief package and was signed into law by President Donald Trump (R) on Sunday, Dec. 27.
Rufus de Rham, Executive Director of The Warner Theatre, said that the program will help the theatre get to the other side of the pandemic and reopen in the fall.
Just like other theatres across the country, the 89-year-old theatre, located on 68 Main Street, closed back in March due to the pandemic.
In an interview back in July with The Winsted Phoenix, de Rham said that the theatre lost at least $600,000 this year.
He said that the theatre regularly brings in 80,000 people to town each year, helping downtown Torrington’s economy.
“I think with this program, it puts the Warner in a very strong position to reopen,” de Rham said. “We do not know how much we will receive in aid. We are waiting for the application process to be announced. Once we know how [the federal government] will be calculating everything, we will have a better idea of what we will get. We do know what we will be getting in funds will be significant, but we’re not sure by how much.”
He said that, due to the pandemic, the theatre had to lay off 12 full-time employees and 78 part-time employees.
Currently, the theatre is employing three full-time employees and six part-time employees.
“We expect to hire back the employees we laid off as appropriate to operational and programmatic needs,” de Rham said. “The federal funds will not be a magic bullet. We will not look at returning to normal operations until the fall. Unfortunately, the pandemic will force changes in how we operate.”
He said that the theatre is starting to develop a reopening plan.
The plan will include installing plexiglass shields at the concession stands and a ticket app for cell phones that would eliminate paper tickets.
“I think everything will depend on health guidelines at the time that we reopen, along with everybody going out and getting their vaccinations,” de Rham said.
As for whether or not the theatre would require customers to be vaccinated to enter the theatre for a performance, de Rham said he was unsure if that would happen.
“I’m not sure how it would be possible for us to track or enforce who is vaccinated,” de Rham said. “I have been discussing things like this with larger organizations, but I’m not so sure we’re on the same path right now.”
He added that acts that were scheduled to perform in 2020, including Melissa Etheridge and Kevin James, are all scheduled to play this fall.
In the meantime, de Rham said that the theatre has scheduled virtual performances on its website and it is possible for outdoor performances in the summer.
“I have been so grateful for everyone in this community for their overwhelming support,” de Rham added. “We will not close down. It’s going to be a little bit different for a while, but we will get through this together.”
The 90th anniversary of the opening of The Warner Theatre will be on August 19.
For more information go to www.warnertheatre.org.

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