MOULTRIE, Ga. – Despite the lack of titles on the marquee, it is still lights, camera, action at Moultrie Cinemas.
What drivers along Veterans Parkway did begin seeing earlier this week, though, was a plea for help on the sign and a website to go for more details.
The site is saveyourcinema.com, and it is a national campaign that began in July by the National Association of Theatre Owners to seek federal assistance for the movie theater industry. The Georgia Theatre Company, which owns Moultrie Cinemas, is a part of the campaign.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theaters closed in March. Eventually theaters like the one in Moultrie did reopen, but with a limited seating capacity. Also, the release of major “blockbuster” films starring characters like James Bond and Wonder Woman were postponed. There are newly released films out for a moviegoers enjoyment, but Georgia Theatre Company also re-released movies of themes related to holidays like Halloween and Christmas.
The SaveYourCinema movement is centered around legislation introduced to the U.S. Congress in late July called the Save Our Stages Act. If the bill passes and is signed by the president, grants would be available through the Small Business Administration for eligible live venue operators, producers, promotors and talent representatives. An initial grant to cover costs incurred from March through December 2020 could be worth as much as $12 million, and then a supplemental grant of up to 50 percent of the initial amount is available to cover costs through June 2021.
The House Resolution (HR7806) defines who is eligible for a grant, defines a live venue operator and talent representative and lists what are allowable expenses for the grant funds.
This relief package totals $10 billion to help live venues, but the theater owners association is asking for an additional $5 billion to include movie houses. The SaveYourCinema site says that more than 150,000 people are employed at local theaters nationwide, and several theaters are in danger of closing or going bankrupt by the spring of 2021. The site also says 98 percent of movie houses had losses of more than 70 percent in recent months.
A local voice in the debate
Connie Fritz, director of the Colquitt County Arts Center, is directly involved in Georgia’s group pushing for the relief package as the Arts Center does stage live performances. The Arts Center shut down on March 13 and reopened the first week of May. Fritz said their summer camp was successful even with COVID-19 related restrictions, and they were able to begin their regular slate of programs such as dance and theater in August.
“Elf Jr.” is in preparations for a run of performances in December, though the rehearsal process has been modified.
“I’ve been pleased with the response,” said Fritz. “Financially, we took a hit. We didn’t have rentals for our facilities. We can’t have groups of more than 50. But utilities (costs) have been lower.”
Going month by month in comparisons with 2019, Fritz said the Arts Center is showing a loss. The staff, however, remains dedicated to serving the community.
In live productions, Fritz said they set the cast for a youth program “Matilda” before the shutdown. There were 65 children cast for the show, and Fritz said they finally had to give up getting it to the stage in July. Spring shows, she said, usually have a high number of participants.
For “Elf Jr.” the rehearsals began by dividing the cast – 23 in number – into age groups. This week they’ve been able to work with them collectively for the first time, Fritz said.
Shows are Dec. 10-12, but the Arts Center theater will hold an audience of only 35 percent of its capacity. That means a limited number of tickets.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” said Fritz, adding that this is better than doing nothing at all.
There’s the Colquitt County Arts Center, then there’s Broadway in New York City, which canceled all shows through May 30, 2021. Fritz said it is a trickle down effect, even with what happens in Georgia’s biggest live venue, the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. She said that theater depends on touring productions, and there is a long list of canceled or rescheduled shows on foxtheatre.org.
Colquitt County Arts Center is a part of Georgia Presenters, of which the Fox is the managing body. This is where theaters work together to increase cultural opportunities in their local communities.
In the future, Fritz is looking to get back into a community-wide production as well as a youth program in the spring of 2021. She said they had hoped to do a radio version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” for this year’s holidays, but people were not yet comfortable for the type of gathering that would require.