​State of the Stages: Entertainment Venues in the Red River Valley

June 15th, 2022

By Brittney Goodman 

goodmanbritg@gmail.com

The High Plains Reader reached out to many owners, operators, managers, and caretakers of performance venues in our area to see the “state of the stages.” We talked about enduring and coming back from COVID, their missions and visions, and the outlook for summer events and beyond.

The central theme when asked about their purpose and mission is to bring entertainment, arts, and culture to our community and to provide community-strengthening events. Every promoter and manager HPR interviewed was passionate about this focus and how they can bring enjoyment and joy to people.

Coming Back From COVID

For many performance venues in our area, dealing with COVID was difficult, if not near-devastating. Emily Beck, Executive Director of the Fargo Theatre, says that although now the Fargo Theatre is in a solid, stable position, the last two years have been “challenging”: “We are still feeling the impact of the pandemic. We are still seeing some postponement of events. Although it is still very much part of our daily existence, it has improved greatly over the last four months.”

Jack Stenerson, Production Manager for the Sanctuary Event Center, says that his venue was “pretty much dark for three months” although they did some socially distanced comedy shows and 49 capacity wedding events.

Jade Nielsen, Founder and Owner of Jade Presents, says COVID meant his company’s events went from “100 miles an hour to zero very quickly” with lots of postponing, canceling, and refunds being issued. Although business is back strong, Nielsen says that they experienced a total of 18 months with negative revenue during Covid and that it has been “tremendously challenging.”

Nathan Pitcher, Music Manager at Dempsey’s Public House commented: “During Covid there were times that we thought, okay, now we can start having music again. But as soon as we had that mentality, we had to stop due to another spike.”

How did our performance spaces deal with Covid? Some, like Walhalla ND-based Frostfire Summer Theatre, did virtual shows. Most closed their doors altogether for several months. Some, like some Jade Presents events, went to larger spaces for spreading out people or having smaller capacity offerings. And others moved outdoors, such as The Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks, with their production of Great American Trailer Park: The Musical, staged behind their building in lawn chairs. Theatre B produced both online and hybrid programming, which “required a lot of attention from ensemble members with certain technical skills, and a small company of performers and designers/technicians who carried a lot of responsibility,” according to Executive Director Carrie Wintersteen.

The amount of touring content has also decreased and that is a concern for many of the talent bookers and performance space managers.

“Finding employees has been…

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