Photo Entertainment venues discuss COVID-19 relief after signing of federal relief program

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen spoke during a virtual roundtable hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth on Friday. Executive Director Tina Sawtelle took the stage with Shaheen for the event.

Those who own and operate independent entertainment venues in New Hampshire spoke Friday during a virtual roundtable discussion about the impact of the American Rescue Plan.

Nicolette Clarke, executive director at Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, said the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program and the Paycheck Protection Program will serve as a lifesaver as they work to bring back live audience members this year.

“As much as I want everybody to race back to the theaters, it’s going to take a while. We want to use some of that money as just cushion because I think we will be losing money on several of our initial shows and that’s because, remember, most of the shows we cancelled are because we were shut down, but nobody wanted to cancel those,” Clarke said.

That means the venue is sitting on a lot of contractual liability with performers who were booked prior to the pandemic, Clarke said.

Brandon James and Ben Hart, artistic directors at Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth, said even though the theater is open to 30% capacity, they currently have only 30 to 50 people a night for live performances.

James and Hart said they would not survive without a shuttered venues grant.

The virtual roundtable was hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth and coordinated by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and her staff.

“I am hopeful we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. At this point, as somebody said to me, ‘It’s still a very long tunnel,’ but at least we are still here and we’re surviving, so thank you all for that,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen said the American Rescue Plan allocates an additional $1.25 billion to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program and will allow owners to apply for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Venue operators could not apply for both a loan and a grant previously.

Any money distributed as a PPP loan will be deducted from the amount venues would be eligible to receive under the grant program.

The change is expected to help venues throughout the country from going bankrupt, as many are on the brink of doing so.

Those attending the virtual discussion had many questions about how the programs would work.

Scott Hayward, owner of Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, said there is confusion throughout the country when it comes to what steps venue owners should now take.

“We’re kind of at a point where nobody knows what is going on,” Hayward said.

Shaheen said she is hoping they will get guidance from the U.S. Small Business Administration soon.

President Joe Biden signed the new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law last week.

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