Without a relief package from Washington in place this week, Maine theaters and music venues will begin to close permanently, according to a major music promoter who has been lobbying politicians on behalf of the industry.

“We need it now. We need it to be in the hands of venues by August, otherwise we will see a lot of closures,” said Lauren Wayne, who books concerts at Thompson’s Point, State Theatre and Port City Music Hall.

Concert promoters and theater presenters have sharpened their lobbying skills during the pandemic in hopes of receiving federal dollars that will help them survive until people can safely gather. But as good as Wayne has become at articulating the plight and needs of music-venue operators to members of Maine’s congressional delegation, the Portland music promoter remains a novice at predicting political outcomes and pessimistic that relief will come soon enough.

“We are being listened to, but whether that brings us to the finish line, I don’t know. I think we will see some kind of relief, but I don’t have a magic ball that I can look into. I am taking it day by day,” she said.

Congress is considering three bills that directly or indirectly impact concert presenters and theater operators, some of whom also say an extension and refinement of the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment benefits would provide crucial and timely financial help. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, predicted relief for the music and arts would come in the form of a larger pandemic relief bill that is being negotiated and said the time frame will be determined by the Senate.

“We’re having a hard time convincing the Senate that the pandemic isn’t over,” Pingree said on Monday. “As people come to realize there are still a lot of problems out there, we will just have to do more to fund some of these organizations until we will be able to put people in a theater again.”


The different bills would do different things. The Restart Act is targeted to help small and midsize businesses and was co-sponsored by Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent. It would give businesses more flexibility to spend money to address overhead costs instead of only payroll, and forgiveness terms would be based on lost income. It is not industry specific, but would cover independent music presenters, such as Wayne. The Save Our Stages Act, introduced in the Senate last week and co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine would give six months of financial support to keep music venues and theaters open and pay employees. Wayne said Collins’ support felt affirming. “It was huge news to have someone as influential as Sen. Collins support something like this,” she said.

The Entertainment New Credit Opportunity for Relief and Economic Sustainability Act, or Encores Act, was introduced last week in the House and would provide tax credits to music venues for refunded tickets. Wayne said the impact of the Encores Act would be small relative to the other bills, and also welcome. “It’s going to give us tax credits for money we already had to give up, but it’s not going to save us,” she said.

Anita Stewart, executive and artistic director at Portland Stage, agreed that Maine’s congressional delegation has been responsive. “My sense is they understand the need and the value. Angus was saying the best thing we could do was reach out to theaters in red states to get them to sway their legislators,” she said.

At Portland Stage, Stewart furloughed most of her staff after her PPP loan ran out. She hopes the bills before Congress allow her to reapply and renew the loan. At this time, Portland Stage is planning to mount performances of “Talley’s Folly” by Lanford Wilson in October with an audience of 50 or fewer and a cast of two. Portland Stage has invested between $15,000 and $20,000 in theater upgrades to safely present plays, including retrofitting its HVAC system, she said. If the federal money does not come through, she will ask donors and others to support the theater so it can present the play.

Curt Dale Clark, artistic director at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick, said theaters are desperate for federal aid. His PPP loan ran out in June. He would like operating money so he can pay his staff to plan next year’s season and begin recovering from this summer’s lost season, as well as capital to invest in safety upgrades that will be necessary in the Maine State offices, rehearsal spaces, dormitories and all other buildings, as well as at Pickard Theater, which is owned by Bowdoin College. Clark called the situation desperate. “All I am doing right now is begging – begging patrons and foundations,” he said.

Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, said it’s hard to accurately measure the full economic impact of the pandemic on Maine’s arts sector, but there are a couple of data sets that offer a glimpse. Through June, based on a survey of 206 respondents, Maine arts groups estimated they suffered financial losses of almost $9.5 million and canceled events that would have attracted 763,546 people since the beginning of the pandemic. Late last week, in response to the prospect of federal legislation, the Maine Arts Commission conducted a blast survey of the sector, asking how much money it would take to survive the pandemic. With 54 responses in the first 24 hours, the figure was $9.1 million, Richard said.

Those 54 respondents said they employed 2,200 people prepandemic. Now, that figure is 162, Richard said.

“We need money and we need it now,” she said. “(The Paycheck Protection Program) needs to be expanded and extended, and it needs to be able to cover these organizations until they can reopen, whenever that is going to be.”

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