| Des Moines Register
The pandemic proves to be detrimental to live entertainment as the months pass. From xBk Live to Hoyt Sherman Place and Wooly’s, many of Iowa’s essential hot spots for music and entertainment are feeling financially squeezed. The bleak outlook for live events even forced Vaudeville Mews to close their doors for good.
Now, central Iowa’s Des Moines Performing Arts — which houses The Des Moines Civic Center, Stoner Theater, Temple Theater, and Cowles Commons — is having trouble bringing in revenue due to continuous postponements of shows.
The DMPA’s CEO & President Jeff Chelesvig sat down with retired KCCI news anchor Kevin Cooney to discuss the current state of the industry and the organization’s programming over a video interview posted Nov. 9 on the DMPA’s official YouTube channel.
Chelesvig said that the only real programming the DMPA has done since the shutdown is virtual camps with the organization’s education team’s help.
“This obviously has resulted in a significant loss of revenue for us because a huge amount of our revenue comes from ticket sales, not only to our events, but you also have things like renting the building to the Des Moines Symphony, and others,” Chelesvig said.
Chelesvig, 61, who has been running the DMPA facility for almost 26 years, added that valet parking and concession stand revenue has dropped to almost nothing.
DMPA has been surviving on support from the Paycheck Protection Program and generous donations from donors. Cooney then asked Chelesvig whether employees’ jobs were at stake due to the lack of income.
Chelesvig slightly shook his head and said, “Sadly, over 350 part-time employees were all essentially laid off in March when we stopped productions because almost all of them are tied to performances.”
Part-time employees aren’t the only staff affected, Chelesvig admitted in the video interview. “We have laid off a significant part of our full-time staff. We’re down to about half of personnel that we had in March,” he said.
With many venues under the DMPA’s umbrella, Chelesvig said it’s complicated to know when performances will resume.
“Things like Broadway require a lot of personnel. If you think about a Broadway show, traveling with them is between 60 and 80 people that have to move from city to city,” he said.
“Between the traveling folks and us, you have about 120 to 140 people backstage in a relatively small amount of space, so it is a very, very complicated formula.”
Simply put, there’s no clear answer on what date shows will begin again for the DMPA.
“Broadway announced this past week that they would not be doing performances until after May 30 of next year,” Chelesvig said.
This will create a challenge for the new Willis Broadway Series shows that haven’t been built yet, which will also be pushed back. And National Geographic Live events — presentations by scientists, explorers and photographers — are again postponed for the current and upcoming seasons.
Despite the depletion of shows and events, Chelesvig said that the DMPA is exceptionally thankful for its subscribers and won’t reopen its doors until it is safe to do so.
“We’re working on what the protocol would like when that day happens, but one of the most important things to know is that social distancing won’t work for us from a financial standpoint for the Broadway shows,” Chelesvig said.
Patrons who have already bought tickets should know that ticket revenue is in a separate account that has not been spent on any DMPA operations, Chelesvig said. This explains the cutting of expenses and laying off a significant amount of personnel.
“We ask that our donors and season ticket holders don’t give up on us, that you continue supporting us. We appreciate that very much.”
If an event is canceled, ticket holders will be notified and will receive a full refund immediately, Chelesvig said.
Chelesvig recommended people be on the lookout for virtual events from the DMPA, including Creative Conversations, which will include talks from figures in Broadway and the arts. “We’re scheduling those right now,” said Chelesvig in the video posted Monday.
DMPA is currently working with booking agents and producers to reschedule shows as soon as possible, beginning as early as the fall of 2021, according to a press release.
Visit DesMoinesPerformingArts.org for more updates on programs, tickets, and information to come.