Coronavirus is upending the entertainment industry in Waynesboro with so many Valley residents practicing social distancing and staying home.
Zeus Digital Theaters in Waynesboro closed Monday night indefinitely a few days before White House officials told Americans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, said owner Brett Hayes.
“Over last weekend, I think we only had one show that was above 50 people, which was ‘I Still Believe,’” Hayes said. “For the other shows, there were four, six, eight or 10 people in a show. Maybe 20 on a couple of them at the peak times. Certainly, the numbers were way down.”
Last weekend before shutting down, Zeus began using disposable cutlery and individual salt packets, increased its number of hand sanitizing stations in the lobby and ramped-up facility cleaning measures to try and keep moviegoers healthy.
“It’s a tough time for everybody involved,” Hayes said. “I think it’s just, be ready for anything, and every day, you just kind of get up and figure out what you’re going to do based on what’s going on that day.”
Hayes said he is doing what he can to help his employees who are no not getting a paycheck.
“I’ve got a mantra that says, ‘In the face of adversity, we see our true selves,’” Hayes said. “Challenges like this give us an opportunity to grow as individuals, and take the best out of it that we can.”
Hayes said that several years ago, he had put together a plan should a crisis like a pandemic strike and force him to close his theater. Although he said some customers have offered to purchase gift cards to the theater to help it through its closure, Hayes encouraged them to donate to a local charitable organization, or purchase gift cards to other local businesses.
“I don’t want my customers to worry about me. I want them to worry about their families,” Hayes said. “Instead, do other things that have more immediate impact, that help people. Other businesses, or other folks in the area.”
Hayes said he is using the Zeus Digital Theater’s Facebook page to promote local businesses and ways Waynesboro residents can help them.
On Tuesday, a day after shutting Zeus, Hayes closed his Moe’s Southwest Grill in Waynesboro and Harrisonburg.
“I don’t think there is a safe wat to handle food in a restaurant like Moe’s if an employee gets sick,” Hayes said. “I wanted to do what is best for the public.”
The Wayne Theatre in downtown Waynesboro, likewise, has temporarily closed.
“If people can support the Wayne, it is really important right now,” executive director Tracy Straight said.
As a nonprofit organization, the Wayne is taking a financial hit, Straight said. With performances being cancelled, Straight urged the community to help by purchasing gift certificates for later shows, become a “Partner in the Arts” through the Wayne’s membership program or purchase tickets to a show booked for the future.
Until the Wayne can reopen, Straight said the organization is looking to provide some engagement through digital platforms.
“I don’t believe our community wants the Wayne Theatre to go away,” Straight said. “We just opened March of 2016. It has been amazing, the impact that it’s had on the economic vitality of downtown, and our community. We’re going to do everything we can to keep it open.”
The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton announced its temporary closure on Monday, cancelling the rest of its Actors’ Renaissance season as well as the spring season. In their statement, ASC said it hopes to re-open in June with its summer performances.
Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny said in the press release that ASC depends on its box office for almost 80% of its annual operating expenses. As a non-profit, the organization has little to no cash reserve for such a crisis, adding that ASC must raise at least $350,000 during this closure to maintain a “skeletal staff.”
ASC is appealing for donations during the closure so it will still be able to reopen when the outbreak clears. Those who wish to help may buy tickets for future shows or gift cards. The organization also encouraged those who have purchased tickets for a cancelled show to convert that purchase into a donation.