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When Will The Show Go On For Las Vegas' Entertainment Venues?

A performer balances on a stack of cylinders high above the floor during a preview of the Cirque Du Soleil production of "Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities" in Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.
(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

A performer balances on a stack of cylinders high above the floor during a preview of the Cirque Du Soleil production of "Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities" in Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.

The neon is still glowing. The marquees and hotel windows now display messages of hope. 

But the showrooms and nightclubs remain dark. And they’ll likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. 

As resorts on the Strip seek a way -- and a date -- to safely reopen, they have yet to reveal how they might revive their entertainment venues. You can socially distance seats in a casino. It’s a lot harder to do the same at the Colosseum.  

But the new Vegas Events COVID-19 Committee is seeking solutions to these problems. It’s headed by Pat Christenson, longtime president of Las Vegas Events.

“When we’re able to sit next to each other, that’s truly when we’ll be able to climb back with all of the different events,” Christenson told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Christenson said the committee is working to be prepared for when live events will be open in Southern Nevada. 

“Even when we are sitting next to each other, when we are doing fully attended events, those will be with COVID protocols. We’re preparing for that day."

He said everyone in the entertainment industry in Las Vegas would love to be selling tickets to events right now but they know they must err on the side of caution.

“It’s what we want versus reality and the reality is to do this properly we have to wait until its safe. We have to wait until this virus takes its course, at least enough until we are able to assemble seat-to-seat,” Christenson said.

The committee is working on guidelines for venues, production staff, and fans so when entertainment venues can open again - which Christenson admits will be in the final reopening phase - everyone will be prepared.

John Katsilometes, a longtime entertainment columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, said he hasn't quite wrapped his head around a Las Vegas Strip without shows. He believes the first step to getting entertainment venues open again is feeling at ease around others.

“People need to first feel confident that they can be in groups. They need to be confident that they can be in each others’ presence. That’s the very first step,” he said.

He said people need to have a set of directives so they can feel like they're not susceptible to the virus and they're not spreading it. Until that is made clear, reopening concert venues and showrooms will be difficult.

“We don’t know how in a theater, in an arena, or in a stadium how that will be achieved," he said.

Katsilometes does believe the city will be able to foster that confidence in people but it will be a complicated process to get to that point.

It is also likely that the return of the city's entertainment industry will start with small venues. Some restaurants are already featuring live entertainment.

“I think for the short term you probably will see kind of a mini-renaissance of the Las Vegas lounge scene in a way that was completely unexpected,” Katsilometes said.

Many performers were working online during the lockdown so it wasn't difficult for them to quickly return to the stage, he said.

However, some of those smaller venues are also at risk of closing permanently, Katsilometes said. 

“A lot of these smaller places do not have the rainy-day fund that will hold them together through something like this," he said.

Smaller, independent bars and clubs that Katsilometes refers to in his column as 'cool hangs' may not make it through the shutdown. He said it will take a community effort to keep these local businesses alive.

Besides large events like the Nationals Finals Rodeo and the Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas is also home to several Cirque du Soleil shows. The shows have been on hold since March. 

Katsilometes said the company is working very hard to secure funding to keep its performers and production crews.

“Cirque is doing more gymnastics off-stage than they ever did on stage in Las Vegas to try to keep that company funded,” he quipped.

The company employs 1,300 people in Las Vegas. 

Another big entertainment draw in Las Vegas is the nightclubs and dayclubs. 

Katsilometes said the problem with those venues is that unlike a theater where 1,000 people walk in at one time and then walk out. Nightclubs see a rotation of thousands of people a night.

He believes they will actually be the very last venue to reopen.

“I think by the time we get to considering opening nightclubs there’s going to be a determination of how to mass-gather already,” he said.

Nightclubs and dayclubs are a huge industry that entices people to visit the city. 

Despite the unanswered questions and the long recovery ahead, Christenson is optimistic about what will happen when venues are allowed to reopen.

"It will bigger," he said, "We didn't have a stadium or an 18,000 seat masterpiece theater like the Sphere. So, once we are ready to open again, it will evolve back into [what it was pre-virus] and it will be bigger than it was before."

Pat Christenson, president, Las Vegas Events;  John Katsilometes, entertainment columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal


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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.