Music venues in Oklahoma were forced to find avenues to keep the doors open during the pandemic, but some are having more than just financial hardships.
“We’ve started doing some work that we can with the funds that we do have but it’s a slow process,” said Russ Roberts, the theater manager at Herron’s Crown Opry Theater.
The theater built in the 1930s has never experienced any significant repairs.
“Everything is pretty much original,” he said. “Some temporary things, like a roof leak here and you fix that there, but no major work has every been done on this building.”
The old roof has caused severe water damage to the building. Some curtains in the theater had to be removed because of water damage seeping into the walls.
“It might affect the other buildings because they’d have to tear it down and I don’t know structurally what that would do to the other buildings,” Roberts said.
He said not having the building on Main Street would leave a physical and literal hole for many people.
“There’s a lot of older folks in this town that remember the stories behind it,” said Roberts. Their first movies and their first dates. There’s lots of memories in this building that I want to keep alive so that generation can pass it on to the next generation and so on and so on.”
Repairing the roof would cost about $18,000 and other repairs could put the bill over $30,000.
Roberts started a GoFundMe fundraiser to hopefully raise $5,000 of what they need.
He said he didn’t want to scare donors with a horrifically high cost.
“I thought we could start small and work from there,” Roberts said.
He took over as manager in June and has started paving a path forward for the old theater. He is working with the city to secure grant money to fix windows and curb appeal. The theater’s owner is still responsible for the bulk of the funding though.
“It’s quite a bit of money that both I and the owner don’t have, so we are just going to reach out to the community and say support your local theater and get it back up and running,” he said.
Venues throughout Oklahoma have had similar financial troubles during the pandemic. Some relief programs are available to music venues and theaters.
The Shuttered Venues Operator Grant, or SVOG, includes more than $16 billion for businesses and staff members in the entertainment industry. The grant funding can go to music venues, theaters, and entertainment venues like zoos. Thousands of business owners applied for the program.
Abby Kurin, director of the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts & Culture, or FMAC, said some venues in Tulsa are starting to receive funding from the program.
FMAC also created a resource for the entertainment industry in Tulsa called Play Tulsa Music. The program offered $190,000 to local venues.
The office conducted a study, finding the industry brings in more than $300 million in revenue to the city annually, so they wanted to help venues and workers during the pandemic.
“Last year, we helped 26 venues and the funding actually went directly to them paying local musicians, as well as the tech side of the live music sector, and the idea was to get people back to work safely,” said Kurin. “This year we have relaunched the program just at the end of June, and we are running a three-month Play Tulsa Music festival for venues to access funding to bring back live musicians again.”
Another $100,000 is available through the Play Tulsa Music Festival.
Kurin said there is financial and cultural value in music venues.
“When you think of Tulsa, you think of music,” she said. “Tulsa is a music city. What do people do on the evenings and on the weekends? They want live music. You can find music every day of the week here in Tulsa. It’s important for this program to be able to provide those music opportunities and events.”
Organizations have stepped up throughout Oklahoma to provide relief for venues.
Herron’s Crown Opry Theater may be starting with more issues to solve with significant structural problems, but Roberts said that won’t stop his efforts.
“We want it to be where a family can make it a date night, bring their kids with them, and enjoy an evening together,” he said. “If the community could just come together and have a good time here, man things would work out great.”