SAVE OUR COMMUNITY STAGES: HOW PROVIDING FEDERAL RELIEF TO COMMUNTIY THEATRES DURING COVID-19 CAN BENEFIT ALL NONPROFITS.
Table of Contents INTRODUCTION 45 I. SETTING THE STAGE 46 A. THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY THEATRES 46 1. A Path to the Theatre and Film Industry 47 2. Positive Social Impact 47 3. Positive Individual Impact 49 4. Positive Economic Impact 49 B. THE EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON ALL THEATRES 50 1. How Theatres Were Staying Afloat Before Their S.O.S. 52 a. Performances and Donations from Fundraising 53 b. Grant Programs 53 II. THE PERFORMANCE 55 A. LOBBYING TO OBTAIN RELIEF 56 B. THE SAVE OUR STAGES ACT 56 1. How the Act Excluded Community Theatres 57 C. ELIGIBILITY EXPANSION FROM THE SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION 58 D. THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN 59 E. GRANT EXTENSIONS 61 III. CURTAIN CALL - PROPOSED SOLUTIONS 62 A. LEGISLATION TO ENSURE THAT NONPROFITS ARE NOT EXCLUDED FROM FEDERAL RELIEF 63 B. FEDERAL FUND FOR NONPROFITS 64 DURING NATURAL DISASTERS CONCLUSION 65 INTRODUCTION
In March 2020, the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, nearly 200,000 (1) businesses permanently shuttered their doors while a multitude of others temporarily closed or operated at partial capacity after quarantine ended. The entertainment industry and live performance venues were among the businesses that felt the hit the hardest. Where the purpose of live performances is to entertain crowds of people, quarantine and social distancing restrictions cut the ability to do so immensely. The theatre industry particularly depends on the capability to sit hundreds to thousands of strangers in one room to watch a theatrical performance. With the world still not operating at full capacity, theatres are struggling to keep their doors open through the end of the pandemic, with community theatres having a particularly difficult time due to their small business nature. Without government assistance to stay afloat through the pandemic, community theatres may not survive, (2) and the community theatre industry may become a fraction of what it once was.
In an effort to combat the challenges that theatres and other live performance venues are facing in the pandemic, Congress passed the Save Our Stages Act (3), now officially named the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program (SVOG), (4) to give the Small Business Administration (SBA) the ability to grant funding to eligible live venue operators. (5) However, even though the Act will provide relief to small live performance venues across the country, as well as larger commercial theatres, the original wording of the Act excluded community theatre stages because they did not meet the eligibility requirement of having paid artists as employees; (6) community theatres are nonprofit organizations whose artists are volunteers. (7) After this discovery, community theatres pushed back and argued that the Act's language needed to be changed in order to include them. (8) The SBA subsequently changed their eligibility requirements which made community theatres eligible to apply for the grant. (9) Even with this expansion, community theatres will be some of the last to apply for the grant because they are in third tier of a three-tier application system. (10) Consequently, community theatres across the country will have to close their doors permanently because they may not be able to receive relief.
This Comment proposes that the federal government should enact legislation so that nonprofit organizations are not excluded from protection during natural disasters simply because they have volunteers as their employees, and that there should be a fund in place reserved for nonprofits to turn to during natural disasters. Part I of this Comment focuses on the importance of community theatres and how theatres in general have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Part II describes the efforts taken to lobby Congress to create a bill like the SOS Act and provide relief for live performance venues, and it details how theatres were enduring the pandemic through grants primarily before Congress passed the Act. Part II also discusses the provisions of the SOS Act and how the SBA has expanded it recently and how the American Rescue Plan has also provided some relief to live entertainment venues. Additionally, Part II further discusses how the SVOG program has been extended for performance venues. Part III of this Comment discusses proposed solutions to enact legislation or provide funding to grant relief to nonprofit organizations during natural disasters. Finally, this Comment concludes that enacting such legislation is a viable method to aid these nonprofit businesses in keeping their doors open during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, which would in turn help the communities they are located in.
SETTING THE STAGE
The Importance Of Community Theatres
To understand why it is pertinent to be concerned that community theatres have not received the relief they need during the pandemic, it is necessary to discuss the importance of community theatres. The theatre provides patrons an avenue to escape everyday life and enter a different world. It provides accounts of real-life events as well as fictional stories that prompt thought, dialogue, and joy. It is also a powerful and useful tool to convey a message to its viewers. Community theatres provide these avenues on a smaller scale as opposed to a large theatre such as one on Broadway. Community theatres are small theatres where a community puts on performances for enjoyment and not as jobs. (11) In contrast to large, professional theatre productions, community theatres do not involve "professional stage production, with scripts written by famous writers and artistic scenery created by professional artists." (12) Instead, "community theatre takes its inspiration from the life of the community itself," and "[t]he actors, who are community members, take an active part in all stages of production." (13) Moreover, "[c]ommunity theatres involve more participants, present more performances of more productions, and play to more people than any other performing art in the country." (14) Because performances are put on by the theatre's respective community, "those involved represent a diversity of age, culture, life experience, and strong appreciation of the importance of the arts." (15)
A Path to the Theatre and Film Industry
In addition to drawing people from different backgrounds together, one of the important aspects of community theatres is that they provide aspiring actors a start to their career and the ability to hone their craft. In fact, numerous actors that occupy television and movie screens today got their start in community theatre, such as Chris Evans, Kristen Bell, Anna Kendrick, Emma Stone, and Kristin Chenoweth to name a few. (16) Community theatres are a way for actors to get their foot in the door of the theatre and film industry--the Anthony Bean Community Theatre in New Orleans, LA describes itself as "a vehicle to enter New Orleans' booming 'Hollywood South' film industry." (17) Even if an individual has a 9 to 5 job and is not attempting to become a professional actor, community theatre is a place they can go to fulfill their joy of live performance as a hobby. Regardless of the reason or the way that people participate, an introduction into the theatre and film industry is not the only important aspect of community theatres, and there are ample positive impacts they have on society.
Positive Social Impact
One of the positive impacts that community theatres have on society is the social impact. Community theatres draw people together and prompt discussions about other cultures or sensitive issues in the community. Theatre also inspires people and helps build long-lasting relationships within the community it has created. The theatre is home to many diverse individuals, and it allows people in communities to "express themselves in a safe, welcoming environment." (18) It is a place where disadvantaged individuals can go, and it allows diverse groups of people to interact with each other when they may not normally do so. (19) This inspires discussion about others' life experiences, leading to a more connected community as "diverse groups can share common experiences, hear new perspectives and better understand each other." (20) This allows individuals to recognize and appreciate other people and experiences which they are not typically exposed to. Additionally, participation in cultural activity, such as community theatre, directly correlates to an increase in civic and social engagement, (21) including voting, volunteering, and charitable work. (22) This naturally follows the principle that community arts projects promote learning the necessary skills for civic and social engagement, "such as negotiating, public speaking, planning, and decision making." (23) Moreover, those who attend showcases for community arts programs--at least once per year--have a higher level of social tolerance towards racial minorities and LGBTQIA+ individuals. (24) Bringing people together, fostering civic and social engagement, and increasing social tolerance are only a few of the positive social impacts that community theatres have on communities.
Community theatre also leaves a long-lasting impact on community youth. "Early exposure to the arts improves educational outcomes and builds confidence, creativity and discipline in our children, teaching them about empathy, creative problem solving and self-expression." (25) In addition to being entertaining, theatre can be educational. Students who attend a Shakespeare play at their local community theatre may get a better sense of the material than they would from just reading it in the classroom. (26) Moreover, children and teenagers that are socially and economically disadvantaged show greater outcomes in academics and civic engagement when they have high levels of arts engagement compared to children and teenagers that are not engaged in arts experiences. (27) Academically, "[t]eenagers and young adults...
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