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Local Theaters In Kansas Ready To Reopen But Don't Expect A Profit

Nadya Faulx
The Orpheum Theatre in Wichita

Curtains have been allowed to lift since Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s stay-at-home order ended in late May.

But local theaters are still figuring out how to do so safely. And the ones that have opened are struggling to convince audiences to take a seat.

"People are not buying tickets," said J Basham, owner of The Crown Uptown Theatre in Wichita.

The Crown reopened in early June. To keep the audience safe, the theater cut its capacity in half. But even with fewer seats, Basham says he’s not filling them.

The theater's first show back, "Hoedown At The Crown," sold about 60 of the 250 seats available each night. Basham said he heard of another theater having similar issues getting patrons in the door.

"Even though they'll go and sit in a restaurant for an hour," Basham said. "I just don’t get it."

With the reduced seating, even sold-out shows are unlikely to lead to a profit at many theaters. Still, the Crown and several other theaters in the region expect to survive at least a year.

Jane Gates, the executive director of the Stiefel Theatre in Salina, said her theater is planning on hosting a few small shows later in the summer, only filling about a tenth of its 1,200 seats. That’s not enough to make a profit, but reopening theaters is also about helping other local businesses recover by attracting customers.

"They go out for dinner ahead of time or they get a hotel room or they come and go shopping," Gates said. "Those venues are doing so much for the communities that they’re in."

Hutchinson’s Historic Fox Theatre said it hasn’t had trouble booking artists for when it reopens at the end of the month. Local, regional and national acts are eager to fill any available spot on his calendar.

"Everybody wants to go back to work whether or not that’s the right thing to do," said Chuck Miller, the executive director of the Fox Theatre.

But Diana Gordon, president of the Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, said the top drawing national acts are staying home. Agents told her those headliners won’t be back on tour until after a vaccine.

"The big name national artists where the cost of the ticket is 70, 80, 90 dollars a ticket - those artists are not out," Gordon said.

Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @stevebisaha.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.