Columbus’s RiverCenter reopens theaters after COVID-19 left stages silent


Video provided by the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The COVID-19 pandemic hit the RiverCenter for the Preforming Arts hard. But now the icon of Columbus arts is welcoming patrons back to its theaters.

The RiverCenter’s executive director Norman Easterbrook said the entire organization is glad to reopen since closing to public audiences in March 23, 2020.

“We are just thrilled to be apart of the community waking up again and restarting the arts in Columbus,” Easterbrook said. “It’s been a little bit of a challenge, it’s been a joy, and it’s also been kind of a struggle.”

During the pandemic, RiverCenter’s budget was cut by more than 75 percent. To meet their gutted budget, the RiverCenter had to lay off some staff. RiverCenter also could not do work with independent contracting companies, an important part of their operations in a normal year.

Still, the RiverCenter was able to hold some small events, with restrictions like mask wearing and social distancing. One of those events was a blood drive that was held at RiverCenter back in January

They also continued educational programming for schools through online programs.

The week of the Miss Georgia Competition was the first week the RiverCenter was fully open to a public audience.

“We’re overjoyed that we are able to open again,” Easterbrook said.

RiverCenter announced their 2021-2022 season on Saturday, June 19. Waitress and The Drifters, The Platters and Cornell Gunter’s Coasters Holiday Show will be returning from the previously canceled season.

“It took Broadway to say we’re going to open,” said Easterbrook.

Even after opening up more, the social distancing and mask wearing will still be required while in the RiverCenter. They will not be checking audiences’ temperatures, but will continue to check the temperatures of staff, backstage workers, office workers and performers.

RiverCenter will continue to sanitize the auditorium, the dressing rooms and other areas throughout the building now that they have the equipment to do so. Hand sanitizing stations are also available.

RiverCenter held online events during the pandemic, but Easterbrook said they were not as successful as they would have liked. Though audiences are down, Easterbrook believes they will bounce back.

One of the ways that audience will grow, Easterbrook said, is from educational programs in the fall. And in February 2022, one of the year’s biggest events comes back in a big way.

“ThesCon will go back to exactly what it was pre-COVID,” said Easterbrook, “Absolutely nothing in the world beats people getting together… sitting side by side experiencing a piece of theatre.”

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