Show People Struggle To Smile
Las Vegas might be the Entertainment Capital of the World, but because of the pandemic, there’s no entertainment to be had.
The long-running “Le Reve” production show became the highest-profile victim of the shutdown of live entertainment, when Wynn closed the show Friday and put nearly 300 people out of work.
"With 6,000 shows, in 15 years, the longevity of the show spoke for itself and the quality of the show," said Nehme Abouzeid, Las Vegas marketing consultant and former Wynn executive, "But really it's a sign of the times with the COVID-19 providing a shock to our economic system. Operators really have to take a hard look at everything, and right now, the future of crowds returning to theaters is really uncertain."
Abouzeid marketed Wynn Resorts for several years. He said besides the coronavirus pandemic the world of Strip entertainment is changing. With live sporting events now available in Las Vegas and a move toward smaller theaters with A-List headliners, big production shows like "Le Reve" and Cirque du Soleil shows are becoming harder to sell to tourists.
"People only have 48 to 72 hours, typically, in Las Vegas and spending 90 minutes in a curtained showroom is not always optimal, especially when a large percentage of your audience are business travelers and conventioneers," Abouzeid said.
He said it is tough to entertain clients in a quiet darkened theater.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has yet to allow live performances to resume even as movie theaters begin to reopen and other states are allowing music festivals and concerts.
Brian Labus is an assistant professor at UNLV's School of Public Health. He told KNPR's State of Nevada the challenge with theaters, churches and stadiums is the density of people. The closer people are the easier the virus spreads.
In addition, he said theaters and sporting events have particular problems when it comes to spreading the virus.
"It's not just when people are in the seats," he said, "It's when they're walking into the theater, when they're leaving, if there is an intermission or a sporting event with a halftime, you've got thousands of people all going out to the concourse and the bathroom at the same time and crowding into those spaces."
He said it is very challenging to set up an environment where people aren't going to be crowded together in close contact.
As for the other states that have allowed concerts, festivals and events, Labus said that is where the country is seeing spikes in coronavirus cases. He said some of those states can serve as a bad example for the rest of the country of what not to do.
He said while the policies that the governor has in place right now are difficult but they are necessary.
"Right now, we're seeing the worst outbreak that we've seen so far," he said, "This is really at the peak. Things have seemed to plateaued, slowed down a bit, but that basically means that we haven't been increasing over the last week or two. We've kind of paused at the greatest amount of transmission in our community. Anything we can do to reduce that transmission is going to help get this under control and allow Las Vegas to return back to normal sooner."
The shutdown of live entertainment goes beyond shows on the Strip. Sarah O'Connell is a co-founder of the Producers Alliance of Southern Nevada, a recently formed group to serve as an industry advocate and support ways to get it running again.
O'Connell said local theaters, nonprofit theaters and production companies often get lumped together with the bigger shows on the Strip and Broadway shows at the Smith Center; however, she said they're a separate entity that needs a separate conversation with state leaders.
"We are a lot of small business owners and we represent 5.5 percent of the GDP of the state of Nevada," she said, "We need our own task force in order to deal with the fact that we are both independent people who need unemployment and small business owners who need targeted strategies for our recovery."
O'Connell said her group understands that the state can't reopen theaters until it's safe but she does think there are out-of-the-box solutions to get entertainment professionals working again.
"The conversation should really be about the strategies to protect local culture and performance art industry so that we're there to be a force multiplier in our economic recovery when opening takes place," she said.
During the Great Recession, O'Connell said Las Vegas suffered a "brain drain" of entertainment industry professionals and it took several years to build back that workforce. She is concerned that may happen again.
It is not just the performers and musicians that are impacted by the industry's shutdown. Doug Johnson is the president of Entertainment Plus Productions. His company puts together events like the fashion show at the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip.
Johnson pointed out that the ripple effect of closing live entertainment is "mind-blowing."
"It touches so much more than just the people that might be flying in," he said, "It touches the people who might be serving drinks, or creating food, or making the room beautiful with decor or florist."
Live entertainment is closed but so are conventions and trade shows, which overlap in many areas like stage production and lighting.
Johnson said everyone involved in the industry both on stage and behind the scenes is trying to adjust to the new reality.
"Everyone is just trying to rethink and regroup," he said, "People are trying to make the best of the situation that they've been given."
Besides making the best of the situation, some people impacted by the continued closure are asking for changes. Nearly 4,000 people have signed an online petition demanding Sisolak create protocols to bring back live entertainment.
Angela Stabile created the online petition. She is the owner of Stabile Productions. Her company produces several shows for Strip hotels, including the Flamingo and Harrah's.
She said the restrictions on theaters do not seem fair since lounges and dayclubs have found workarounds, like offering food, to stay open.
"I don't see how... you have more of a risk to get COVID in a showroom if you're following guidelines, for instance wearing masks, taking temperatures as you come in, whatever they may be," she said, "What is the difference?"
She said the 50 person limit needs to be lifted so theaters can reopen and make a profit.
Nehme Abouzeid, Las Vegas marketing consultant, former Wynn executive; Sarah O’Connell, Co-founder, Producers Alliance of Southern Nevada; Angela Stabile, Stabile Productions; Brian Labus, assistant professor, UNLV School of Public Health; Doug Johnson, president, Entertainment Plus Productions