It’s been a full year since the last time the curtain rose at Warsaw Incline Theater in Price Hill. The COVID-19 pandemic forced most live entertainment businesses, including this West Side staple, to a standstill — no amount of distancing or mask-wearing could offset the sudden discomfort audiences and performers felt in an auditorium full of people.
“It’s like being a hammer and there are no nails anywhere to be found,” said managing director Rodger Pille. “Our purpose in life was taken away.”
The theater's company, Cincinnati Landmark Productions, went from having thirteen scheduled shows to none. They searched for grant funding to stanch the bleeding and keep employees' bills paid; they held an outdoor cabaret during the summer and a virtual holiday show during the winter. It helped some.
But now, Cincinnati Landmark is getting help from another business that fretted through the pandemic: The Farm, a banquet hall that traditionally hosted large, in-person events.
"We got through the financial crisis of January 2020, we had our busiest month we ever had in February 2020, and then the pandemic hit in March,” said Farm owner Daniel Elsaesser.
Some of the old events are coming back. The Farm hosted a wedding in January.
And in conversations with Pille, Elsaesser saw a way for both their companies to benefit.
“Theaters have been hurt, really, worse than banquet halls,” he said.
So Cincinnati Landmark Productions will perform four live shows for guests at The Farm in April and May, bringing back the kind of dinnertime theater that was impossible to hold safely in 2020.
All four dates sold out within a day of their announcement.
“The audience enormously responded,” Pille said. “Within a day, the whole thing was sold out, so that tells us the audience can't wait to get back, and we can't wait to have them back.”
Pille said communities thrive when the arts thrive, and he’s heartened by the hope that widespread vaccination will allow performers to make concrete plans for the first time in a year. He's crossing his fingers for a more normal autumn.
“We’ve surveyed our audience throughout this time and asked them when they would feel comfortable coming back, so we did have some optimism that when we do produce theater again, that they will be there," he said. "But to see something like that sell out in such a short time, that really hammers the point home. People really can’t wait to come back out and support their local theaters, their local art organizations. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and we can see it."