How Live Entertainment in Pasadena Has Adapted to the Pandemic

Changing the way we come together will inevitably impact the live entertainment industry.

The lights are out and the auditoriums eerily quiet. Since mid-March, there have been no performers on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse, no concerts at the Rose Bowl, no fun weekend events at the Pasadena Convention Center, and no movies playing at the local cinemas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt the economy of Pasadena and surrounding cities with various attractions, restaurants, and retailers forced to shut down. “Those industries have been devastated, as are the people who make their living performing, organizing or supporting those shows,” says Paul Little, president & CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “Will event venues from the Rose Bowl and Convention Center to NOOR and the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden remain viable?”

“Pasadena is beloved worldwide as an art, culture, and entertainment destination…culture and entertainment inspires us, uplifts the soul, and brings our community together,” says Jeanne Goldschmidt, executive director, Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau. Now, however, the future is cloudy for all such institutions. But one thing is certain: things will be different. And Pasadena’s live entertainment venues are hustling to anticipate and adapt to those changes.

Impact of COVID-19

“For Arclight, it’s been devastating,” acknowledges Ted Mundorff, president and chief operating officer of ArcLight Cinemas. “We have a long way to go and no one knows the answer because we’ve never been in this position. We are planning on opening when we can and when it is safe.” The company has been looking at all safety measures and had already started practicing social distancing at the time of the shutdown, “giving us some experience with safety procedures, including limited seating and sanitary measures,” Mundorff says.

“Every day is a new question,” he continues, referring to the stopping of production and the delay of movie releases. At press time, Warner Brothers was still planning to release Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated movie Tenet on July 17. “We are expecting that the studios will continue to do windows for theatrical movies.”

At the Pasadena Convention Center, “staff is focused on getting our spaces and protocols ready to reopen when the time is right in collaboration with local public health authorities,” says executive director Naz Sabripour. “We’re implementing the measures needed to create a safe environment for employees and guests. We want everyone that walks through our doors to feel confident that we’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure their health and safety, which is why we have committed to receive the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation on outbreak prevention, response, and recovery. This is a third-party validation for public venues and is recognized as the gold standard of safe venues.”

The Rose Bowl is also taking the steps necessary to secure public safety. “The Rose Bowl Stadium is already working internally on generating new protocols for cleaning, social distancing, and ensuring that our staff, vendors, and fans have a safe experience once we are cleared by the Pasadena Health Department to host events again,” says Darryl Dunn, CEO & general manager of the Rose Bowl Operating Company.

After shutting down in early March, NOOR was proactive in contacting clients and working with them to reschedule their events, according to Robert Shahnazarian, senior vice-president of sales and marketing. “It was about being flexible on both sides and we were able to have 99% of our clients rebook with a new date,” he says. That was not easy given many of the events are emotional celebrations involve weddings, notes Shahnazarian, adding that the target date to reopen is now September 4.

Future Challenge of Live Entertainment

Local companies are working on plans to reopen in the near future. There have been some innovative alternatives for the time being, such as the Rose Bowl launching a new virtual event, “Rose Bowl Live.” Some of the most iconic names in sports, music, and food like Los Angeles Galaxy’s Cobi Jones and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott entertained in a new way through the event.

Looking down the road at the financial feasibility of hosting events, companies are exploring various options, including lower capacities due to physical distancing and how artists can be allowed to perform.

“Meetings and events are going to need to be innovative moving forward,” says Goldschmidt. “Streaming is a good option, especially now and in the near future, but I don’t think it replaces that in-person interaction. People will still want and need to be connected.”

“What can we do to help celebrate an event and do it safely is what we’ve been working on,” says Shahnazarian. “We’re social creatures, so it’s about finding a way to put on an event using common sense.”

Mundorff also touts the need for social interaction: “It is part of who we are as a society. With time and safety procedures in place, things will gradually return to normal. I’m always hopeful.”

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