Dark days for theaters: COVID-19 financial hit on local theaters goes beyond the stage

PITTSBURGH — The Orchard Performing Arts Company is searching for a new home for their shows in Westmoreland County.

For years, the actors performed at the Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont. But recently, the owner of the building decided to sell it because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other repairs the building needed.

“Westmoreland County has been hit pretty hard with the pandemic as far as the arts go. It’s hard to do things remotely and to stream stuff because of the technology issues,” Tina Lepidi Stewart said.

Stewart is part of the Orchard Performing Arts Company. She’s directed several of their plays. Stewart tells Channel 11 that the pandemic has almost ended the performing arts scene for adults and students in Westmoreland County.

“I can’t wait till everybody can get back to performing and creating art again. This has just been devastating to our theater community,” Stewart said.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is echoing that sentiment.

“We’re not going to be able to open until it’s safe to do so in full capacity. Yeah, wow is right,” Kevin McMahon said.

McMahon is the President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. His nonprofit has been working to make the arts more accessible in Pittsburgh. The Trust is responsible for revitalizing a 14-block area with theaters and symphonies, among other things.

He tells Channel 11 the pandemic is costing his organization big time.

“We don’t have the productions, don’t have the audience. And it’s, it’s been very, very difficult, particularly financially for the Cultural Trust,” McMahon said.

His nonprofit laid off half of its staff and cut the remaining staff’s pay. The group has cancelled all shows for the year, and so far, he’s projecting that they’ll lose $50 million this year.

McMahon also says some of the loss will affect the city of Pittsburgh’s budget. The nonprofit pays $700,000-$900,000 in taxes for the Theater Square Parking Garage, and it’s sat empty since mid-March of 2020.

The restaurants, bars and hotels that normally see extra foot traffic while people are downtown watching shows aren’t because of COVID 19, as well.

“You still have a lot of expenses that we manage over one million square feet of real estate at the cultural trust, and we have a lot of fixed costs that don’t go away just because the theaters are dark,” he said.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is surviving right now on donations. If you would like to help with their mission of bringing arts to the city of Pittsburgh, visit trustarts.org for more details.