Springer Opera House bringing live theater back; RiverCenter will remain virtual for now


When COVID struck in March, it hammered arts organizations especially hard. And two of the most prestigious in Columbus are taking different paths back to reopening.

The Springer Opera House will reopen with outdoor performances beginning in mid-October, while the RiverCenter for Performing Arts will remain closed to public shows. The RiverCenter will offer a virtual streaming concert series as part of a national initiative.

The RiverCenter went dark in March. Now, the question is, when do the lights come back on? 

“It really is kind of chilling,” said Norm Easterbrook, the RiverCenter’s executive director and CEO. “Because the very thing this building was meant to do, we can’t do right now.” 

The Bill Heard Theater seats nearly 2,000 people. Even if Easterbrook wanted a large-scare production – a play or a concert – the COVID capacity is 700 folks. 

“It has caused us to make a lot of adjustments and be innovative in different ways.” 

The Springer Opera House, which has operated for 150 years has decided to retool its 2020-2021 schedule.

 “Evil Dead: The Musical,” will debut on a new stage constructed in the parking lot along Second Avenue. It starts Oct. 15th and runs through the 25th

There will be social distancing in the audience and patrons will be required to wear masks if they are moving about. 

The pandemic has threatened the historic Springer and its operations.

“Make no mistake about it. The Springer is in trouble,” Pierce said. “There is an existential threat to our organization because of COVID-19 pandemic.” 

This isn’t drama. It’s the new reality as the Springer Opera House figures out how to operate in these troubled times. 

The Springer has been saved time and again – by a community that refuses let the curtain fall on the 150-year-old institution. 

“Local individuals, corporations, foundations have come together and really helped us survive at least this far.” 

The Springer’s $2.6 million annual operating budget has taken a $900,000 hit, Pierce tells News 3.

The financial stress to the RiverCenter has been even harsher. The nearly $4 million annual operating budget has taken a $3 million hit. 

“We don’t have an in-house production company,” Easterbrook said. “We don’t use local talent. We bring in shows that our touring. Right now, the touring industry is just non-existent.” 

It has caused Easterbrook and his board to make changes.

“You realize some you have to make some very difficult choices,” Easterbrook said. “We had to furlough some employees. And we had some employees we had to simply layoff.” 

Ticket sales have taken a hit at the Springer because until now there have been no tickets to sell. 

“Seventy-two percent of the Springer’s annual operating budget is earned income – ticket sales,” Pierce said. “People laying their money down in the box office, buying a ticket, coming into rooms like this and sitting side by side. And that’s not happening right now.” 

Springer Opera House Director of Productions Matthew Swindell is the man putting together parking lot theater. And the cast and crew are more than ready to get the show on the road after six months of darkness. 

It felt like forever and no time at all,” Swindell said. ” So, getting back to the rhythm of what we do every year here and what this place is built to do is has been exciting and it’s definitely unusual.” 

Spriner 2020-2021 schedule


Breakfast at Tiffany’s – January 21-31, 2021 

Monty Python’s Spamalot – Feb 12-28, 2021 

Singin ’in the Rain – March 19-April 2, 2021 

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – April 30-May 9, 2021 

The Wizard of Oz – June 11-27, 2021 


The Winter Wonderettes – December 10-20, 2020 (showing on the Springer’s main stage) 

Evil Dead, the Musical – October 15-25, 2020 (showing in a new outdoor theatre at the Springer) 

Cotton Patch Gospel – March 25-April 2, 2021 (showing in McClure Theatre) 


Get Out – Friday, October 2 at 8:00 p.m. 

Hocus Pocus – Saturday, October 3 at 8:00 p.m. 

Army of Darkness – Friday, October 16 at 11:00 p.m. 

Night of the Living Dead – Friday, October 16 at 8:00 p.m. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Friday, October 31, at 8:00 p.m. 

Season tickets for the Springer’s 2020-21 Season are on sale now and single tickets for Evil Dead, the Musical, Winter Wonderettes, and the Springer Outdoor Movie Series are on sale. For more information, call 706-327-3688 or visit springeroperahouse.org. 

The RiverCenter on Tuesday announced that it is one of a select group of nonprofit arts
organizations participating in a three-part virtual concert series, Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway featuring two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone on October 24, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti on November 14, and critically acclaimed actress and singer Vanessa Williams on December 5.

Subscription packages and single tickets are available for Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway. Subscription packages are $75 and include access to all three livestream events. Single tickets are $30 for each livestream event. Proceeds from ticket sales will support the
RiverCenter Recovery Fund.

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