The Capitol Center for the Arts continues to chase its future

  • The Capitol Center For the Arts on South Main Street in Concord has long been the city’s marquee venue for national touring acts. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/21/2020 4:30:04 PM
Modified: 11/21/2020 4:29:50 PM

Chevy Chase, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, has been waiting a long time to appear at the Capitol Center for the Arts.

And news this week that the CCA is suspending all live events until January because of COVID-19 means Chase had to postpone his show for the second time and will have to wait 13 more months. The “pause,” as Executive Director Nicki Clarke calls it, will affect shows at the CCA’s sister theater, the Bank Of New Hampshire Stage, as well.

Through the summer, both venues had reduced their capacities and practiced social distancing between groups. But Clarke decided recently that circumstances had become too dangerous after the recent spike in cases around the country.

“The kids were staying home (after the holiday) and I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Clarke said. “I have staff members with underlying conditions. I’m listening to one of the many state officials on a report and they were saying do not spend 15 minutes or more with anyone unless you live with them. That is dangerous, and the numbers are going up.”

Musicians and comedians stopped touring last spring, when the initial quarantine went into effect.

“In April, May and June, poof, those shows during that time frame were canceled or rescheduled,” Clarke said.

COVID cases for deaths and infections were down for a while, before they climbed back up and now stand at some of the highest levels through the eight-month ordeal. That’s what prompted Clarke to formally announce that live streams will be shown, but nothing live. It’s also what prompted her to lay off 22 part-time workers, which wiped out half of Clarke’s overall staff. These were bartenders, stage hands and food service people.

The other 22 individuals, full-timers, were kept for six weeks, until early May, when the staff shrunk yet again, leveling off to eight this summer.

“When it hit in March, we knew our shows would all dry up and we knew the touring would stop,” Clarke said.

The CCA and the Bank of New Hampshire Stage took measures to attract acts and fans and keep their doors open. The CCA’s 1,300 seating capacity was reduced to 300. Comedian Bob Marley played four sold-out shows, and, as Clarke noted, that meant a loss of thousands of dollars.

“It was the equivalent of one show,” she said.

The shows, though, were deemed a success, leading Clarke and Marley to consider a New Year’s Eve show at the CCA. Recent COVID statistics, however, told them to rethink it.

“We thought it was a good idea,” Clarke said. “He (Marley) helped people get through the last time with laughter. Some were comfortable when he came here in the fall, and it went so well, then the spike started to happen and did not make sense to risk people coming. A lot of people have to be involved for the show in the big theater, so we chose to pause.”

Once the magnitude of the pandemic became clear, 56 shows had to be rescheduled, canceled, or were simply held until the smoke clears and the country has a better grasp of what the future holds.

Built in 1927, the CCA became a stop on the Vaudeville circuit and served as Concord’s main movie house for decades, before falling into disrepair and closing in 1989. COVID brings a temporary halt to the sustained momentum that the CCA created in 1995, when it reopened through $4.2 million in donations and 3,000 hours of volunteer work.

Since then, the CCA has hosted big names, like Jay Leno and guitarist Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Through the rest of 2020, the biggest names put on hold until next year include Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Celtic Woman and Marley.

The problem is, none of the postponed dates means much at this point, because no one knows how the coronavirus will react in the coming months. By then, if circumstances haven’t changed, the shows will not go on at the CCA.

Clarke is ready to announce five or six Christmas musicals planned for the CCA, with far fewer people attending than at the big shows and proper guidelines easier to follow. Plus, live streaming, now mainstreamed, is set for singer Lucinda Williams on a national scale on Dec. 3. The CCA gets a small cut when selling the public streaming tickets for the show.

Actually, as it stands now, the Bank of New Hampshire Stage will welcome the first show back, singer Matt Nakoa, on Jan. 15.

“My people are talking to Marley people about rescheduling, so we’re hoping for new shows,” Clarke said. “There’s not going to be much doing with the size and scale of shows you want to see at CCA because none of the bigger acts are on the road. That won’t happen until a vaccine is here and is distributed widely.”

None of the COVID-caused changes have affected anyone like they did Chase. His characters on Saturday Night Live, Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation had the country laughing in the 1970s and ’80s.

Initially, Chase was to appear here in the fall of 2019, but he postponed it because of other commitments. He was rescheduled for shows last spring, then last fall, but COVID stopped both.

He’s scheduled to hit the stage just in time for the holiday season, but it’s the one in 2021. If all goes planned, Chase will answer questions, show a vacation movie from the three-part series and then discuss it afterward. VIP tickets get you great seats and a photo opp after the show.

There will be one change from the original plan: National Lampoon’s Vacation won’t be shown, replaced by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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