With Live Entertainment Allowed Again, But With Strict Capacity Limits, Theaters And Performers Wonder Is It Worth It?

CHICAGO (CBS) — Inside the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, a lot’s been off.

Normally, the stage lights would be on at the nearly 95-year-old theater; 2,000 spectators clapping, artists crooning up to the balcony.

“There would be tables, there would be a bar, there would be people. People! Lots of people!” executive director Val Devine said.

Until life returns to normal, the theatrics are left to Devine.

“It will be like one of my happiest days with the exception of maybe my children being born,” Devine said of that day in the future when Rialto Square Theatre can again host big crowds.

The last live performances were 11 months ago. The biggest event during the pandemic was hosting traffic court for about six months over the summer. Devine said the old Joliet courthouse was not suitable for social distancing, so Rialto Square hosted for a small fee.

Live entertainment is allowed in Illinois theaters now, but the audience is capped at 50 people.

“That doesn’t cover my stagehand people. That doesn’t cover my sound rental,” Devine said.

Is it worth it? That’s the question performers ask too, according to booker Steven Peters.

“God forbid one of their stars, or even for that matter a costumer or a lighting technician, gets sick on the road with COVID; everybody’s shut down,” Peters said.

The details of each state’s restrictions on live entertainment further complicate things.

“It might be surging in one state and falling back in another,” Peters said.

Peters’ company, VenuWorks, has had to reschedule more than 1,600 events – including many at Rialto Square. Some have been postponed two or three times.

“I finally stopped tearing up,” Devine said, because the show must go on, as they say.

Devine is feeling encouraged by the vaccine and more.

“We’re at 50 people; 50, and that is 50 more than I’ve been able to have for a very long time,” Devine said.

Country music singer Gary Allan is supposed to be the next live performance at Rialto Square at the end of April, but he’s no stranger to re-booking. Devine said Allan’s act has been rescheduled at least three times since the pandemic began.

Story from CBS Chicago

February 11, 2021