Straz Center Pushes to Reopen Despite Struggles

The Straz Center shining brightly at night, showcasing the Jaeb Theater. The Jaeb Theater was set to be one of the few spots open for audiences to watch a performance at, following the Straz Center’s reopening.



Aize Hassan, Photography Editor

After several months of shutdown, the Straz Center in Tampa plans to bring back performances starting Oct. 2.

   The Straz Center in Tampa shut down immediately in response to the COVID-19 outbreak on March 13. All events, performances and classes were canceled, and every customer received a refund.

   All venues including the Straz Center suffered greatly during the shutdown, with smaller venues possibly never recovering. The Straz’s employees suffered as their salaries went from five percent to 25 percent. Along with that, a large portion of its 500-employee workforce was either laid off or furloughed. “Everybody is really hurting,” said Straz Center CEO, Judy Lisi.

   Despite being closed, they still tried to keep up and running as much as they could. They brought live events to audiences through online live streams; for example, in August, Christopher Jackson, a Tony-winning member of the original cast of Hamilton, did a livestream concert with the Straz Center. They also held the Showstoppers Broadway Intensive in the Patel Conservatory in July and August, keeping students distanced and requiring them to wear masks.

   Reopening for the Straz comes with many financial difficulties. The venue needs approximately $8.6 million to resume ticket sales that create revenue for stage performances. Of that money, $2.6 million is for personal protective equipment and hygiene, and the rest of the $6 million is for covering operating costs.

   The Straz still has not received efficient funding as the CARES fund only granted up to $500,000 to reimburse expenses related to the virus. At the start of May, they received $2.8 million as a part of the government’s Paycheck Protection Program but that was still not enough. Many venues among the nation are pushing Congress to pass the “Restart Act” which would extend the Paycheck Protection Program, granting economic relief to the live event industry. Along with that, live event venues across the nation, including the Straz Center, took part in the Red Alert on Sept. 1, lighting red lights to bring attention to the fact that venues will suffer greatly if Congress does not approve of the “Restart Act” and the “Save our Stages Act,” which would authorize $10 billion in small business grants to cover operation costs, payroll and personal protective equipment.

   The Straz is still waiting on these bills to be passed in order to hopefully receive some grants. Luckily, the Senate reconvenes on Sept. 8 and the House returns to session Sept. 14.

   In the meantime, the Straz is making its best efforts to start live performances again. They plan to use outdoor spaces to their advantage as the Riverwalk will be used to bring Tampa Opera and Jobsite Theater performances back to audiences. The first performance at the Riverwalk stage will be The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) starting Oct. 2. Other performances will be resumed at the Jaeb Theater.

   “The capacity in the Jaeb Theater and at the Riverwalk Stage will be limited,” said Lisi. “We’ll be offering socially distanced table seating that will allow small groups of friends and family to enjoy the performances together in a safe and responsible way. Masks will be required, and additional safety protocols will be in place. I am overjoyed that performances are returning to our stages.”

   Regarding other safety protocols, there will be health screenings and temperature checks before any building entry for both guests and staff. Effective masks will be required for everyone and there will be six-foot distancing. They will try making things as “touchless” as possible, requiring tickets to be digital, preferring and providing cashless payment options and not distributing physical programs. Complimentary hand sanitizer and wipes will be provided and security and servers will be required to wear gloves. Lastly, thorough sanitization will occur before and after each performance.

   Live event venues are trying their best to bring some sense of normalcy even though conditions are not ideal. Currently, big shows are expected to return to the Straz Center by next Spring, although this expectation may change.