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Josh Houghton (Buddy) and ensemble (L-R): Adriane Leigh Robinson, Elliot Peterson, Jasmine Jackson, Tyler Johnson-Campion, Anju Cloud.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG - @amandatiptonphotography

The rapid rise in COVID-19 positivity over the past week is knocking the flattened performing-arts industry right back to the canvas before it even had a fighting chance to get back on its knees. But the emotional impact might turn out to be even worse than the economic impact, Arvada Center CEO Philip Sneed said today.

Theater companies and arts centers were just starting to show signs of renewed life this month with their critical, revenue-generating holiday shows in full force throughout the state. “But omicron just kicked the table over and said, ‘We don’t play by the old rules anymore,’ ” said Idris Goodwin, executive director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

The Arvada Center canceled its final nine scheduled performances of “Elf, The Musical” last week after what grew to be 14 positive COVID cases among its fully vaccinated cast and crew, Sneed said. Seven visiting actors went into quarantine immediately after testing positive so, even though their show is canceled, they aren’t allowed to travel home for the holidays.

“This is hard on our performers. It’s hard on our staff. And it’s hard on our audiences,” Sneed said. “It’s just this huge, crushing sledgehammer that’s come down on everybody.”

On Tuesday, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts canceled all upcoming performances of “The Lion King” national tour through Sunday (Dec. 26) after an unspecified number of breakthrough COVID cases were detected within the company.

That brings to nine the total number of canceled performances, and to nearly 26,000 the number of ticket-holders who cannot be reassigned to another date because the rest of the run, scheduled through Jan. 2, is essentially sold out. “Due to limited remaining inventory, refunds will be extended to all impacted patrons,” said Suzanne Yoe, the Denver Center’s Director of Communications.

“As our community knows, performing-arts venues were among the first to close and the last to reopen,” said Yoe. “The hiatus from performing resulted in an estimated $100 million loss of revenue to the DCPA alone. The additional loss of revenue from these canceled performances is challenging. But we budgeted conservatively knowing that cancellations are a very real possibility in the short-term.”

Sunday evening was going to be the first time Maura McCormick of Frederick had ever seen “The Lion King.” Instead, that was the first performance to be canceled.

“I was really looking forward to it, and I am disappointed I didn’t get to go,” said McCormick, 58. “On the other hand, I think they did the responsible thing by canceling. I was feeling reluctant about going anyway because of all the news about the Omicron variant coming on strong. I’d rather they cancel than a whole bunch of people getting sick and maybe ending up in the hospital. We’ll just have to wait for ‘The Lion King’ to come back around next time.’ ”

Sandy J. Reddic of Denver posted a Facebook photo of his mother in a hospital bed with the message: “Please pray for my mother. She’s more upset about COVID canceling tonight’s performance of ‘The Lion King’ than being admitted to the hospital.”

If the run is able to safely resume on Dec. 28, that would leave just eight remaining performances before the tour departs Denver.

Sneed estimates the Arvada Center’s lost ticket revenue will total about $233,000, based on an average ticket price of $50. But even after posting a $1.2 million loss for the 2020-21 fiscal year, he said the Arvada Center should be able to weather this storm because it received $2.35 million from the $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, part of the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act.

“These cancellations are not going to trigger any budget cuts, salary reductions or layoffs,” Sneed said. The 4,500 impacted ticket-buyers are being given the choice of getting a refund, applying their purchase toward an upcoming production or donating the value of the ticket back to the Arvada Center.

“We are lucky because these funds are there for this exact purpose,” Sneed said. “But the emotional impact is huge. It’s been a rough few days on all of us and on our patrons. Some have let us know that they are supportive of our decision to cancel, and others have made it clear that they are very disappointed. Some have told us their kids were crying because they didn’t get to see the show.

“All of us here at the Arvada Center were excited because this is now the fifth theater production we’ve done since reopening from the pandemic,” he added. “We started with tiny houses back in April but building back up to full houses of this joyous musical for the whole family had us feeling like we were back to normal. I can handle the money issue, but I don’t know how to fix the human issue. It’s our visiting actors who can’t go home to their families for the holidays. It’s the kids who can’t have this wonderful holiday experience that is ‘Elf.’ It’s just a big old drag on everybody.”

In Colorado Springs, the Fine Arts Center has had to cancel two performances of its “Cinderella” musical — once because the severe Dec. 15 windstorm knocked out power throughout Colorado Springs, and again Tuesday night (Dec. 21) after the third positive COVID test within the creative team since Friday.

“What that means is we are still in the shizzle,” said Goodwin. “But our plan is to keep on trekking.”

Goodwin said affected ticket-buyers will be moved to another performance before “Cinderella” closes on Jan. 9. He said his theater company had to cancel several performances of “Working: A Musical” back in August because of COVID breakthrough cases, “so we’ve gotten some practice on how this goes.”

When asked the toll this setback has been on his staff, Goodwin said, “It’s been hard on our people, for sure.” Using fire-danger color-coding as a measure of how emotions are running right now, he said this is a red-alert situation.

“We’re almost two years into this now, and yeah, it’s tense,” Goodwin said. “In a way, it feels like we’re right back where we started in March 2020. There’s a feeling that the show can’t go on — but we’re ‘the show must go on’ kind of people. Our production of ‘Cinderella’ is about kindness, and people really need that right now. Audiences are really responding to the message of this show, so we’re just going to keep on pushing — safely.”

Yoe said the Denver Center also places the highest value on the well-being of its guests and company members. “We, along with the other resident companies at downtown’s Arts Complex, were area leaders in announcing COVID vaccination and mask policies in order to limit breakthrough infections and protect the health of our guests and company members,” she said. “We will continue to monitor CDC, state and local recommendations as well as the practices of our peers nationally. These measures are necessary to keep our doors open, our staff employed, our audiences engaged and our economy on the road to recovery.”