The coronavirus-prevention shutdown of scores of metro Atlanta venues is already putting the pinch on artists who depend on crowds for their livelihood and on the thriving local arts economy.

“It’s going to have a huge impact – a complete drag,” said jazz musician Joe Gransden, who plays many metro Atlanta venues, of the hit to the arts economy. “It’s very scary, and I’ve talked to a lot of musicians around town already and everybody’s feeling the crunch.”

There is anxiety among organizations that have had to cancel shows, such as the City Springs Theatre Company, and among those still in business, such as The Springs Cinema & Taphouse movie theater.

“We’re kind of like everybody else – sitting here glued to our phones and our computers seeing what the next shoe to drop is,” said Brandt Gully, owner of The Springs Cinema. He said people were still coming to movies, but it remained to be seen whether the government might order a shutdown or whether Hollywood studios would stop shipping films in the extraordinary pandemic period.

The cost to theater

The locally based City Springs Theatre Company has been a major draw at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center in the City Springs civic center. The city on March 12 announced a suspension of all events there through March 31 – right in the midst of the theater company’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

The theater company is offering ticket refunds or exchanges. But spokesperson Jennifer Wilkes also suggested that patrons choose to turn the cost of the tickets into a tax-deductible donation – so the money could pay the salaries of the artists, musicians and technicians.

Sandy Springs Theatre Company Executive and Artistic Director Brandt Blocker. (File)

“Musical theater is a very expensive artform to produce — from rental of the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, to royalties, scenic, costumes, lighting, sound, orchestra, technicians, musicians and staff,” said Brandt Blocker, the theater company’s executive and artistic director. “An early closure means the direct loss of well over $110,000 in ticket revenue, not to mention the anticipated sales lost this week, to help cover those expenses.

“While this will be quite a burden for us to overcome, through the generosity of our patrons and support of our upcoming productions, we have full faith we will weather this storm,” he said.

Musicians to take a hit

“It already has hit my pocketbook,” said Gransden, the jazz musician, who has seen cancelations of corporate shows and has other regular venues considering changes. For now, he is still planning his own major event at the Sandy Springs PAC, a Jazz Camp for Kids scheduled for May 31-June 5.

Gransden said income is already uncertain for freelance musicians. “… [W]e never really know what we’re going to make each month,” he said. But the period of mid-March through early June is typically a busy time when musicians save money to make it through the slower summer – and thus also an especially terrible time for coronavirus impacts.

Jazz musician Joe Gransden. (Special)

At the same time, Gransden said, he has considered canceling some appearances himself due to his own health concerns. “I do think about that now. I didn’t think about it a week ago,” he said. “… I come home to a 10-year-old son and a wife, and [I have] parents who live near me.”

Speaking on March 13, he said he had a gig that night “and I’m a little reluctant,” but he was going to bring hand sanitizer and keep his distance from people.

“You want to encourage people to continue to support the arts and continue to go out and support the venues, but at the same time if it’s a health risk to anybody involved, that’s the wrong advice to give,” he said.

Movie theater uncertainty

At The Springs Cinema, Gully was trying to satisfying ongoing demand from “families going stir-crazy” while keeping up an increased cleaning regimen and other precautions. Earlier this week, he hadn’t seen much of a change in the business. But then came cancelations and advice to older adults to avoid crowds.

“I haven’t seen the older audiences here even on films that are right in their strike zone,” he said. And the business has been hit by its plans to screen such major sports events as the Final Four basketball championship and the Masters golf tournament, which have been canceled.

Brandt Gully speaks at the 2019 grand opening of The Springs Cinema & Taphouse. (File)

Gully said he is concerned about other unprecedented possibilities, such as government ordering a shutdown of venues as has happened in such places as New York City. Another possibility is movie studios not providing movies. Several films already have been delayed by studios concerned about coronavirus impacts on the audience, starting with the new James Bond thriller, “No Time to Die,” which was pushed back from April to November.

“Like literally, I don’t know in two weeks what we will have other than the movies we have today,” Gully said.

In a March 13 email to patrons, The Springs Cinema listed its cleaning and disinfecting preparations. “We understand that every individual will need to make their own decisions as to whether to attend any particular activity,” the email read in part. “We strongly believe in the power of entertainment to provide a nice distraction and hopefully create lasting memories with friends and family during trying times like these, and wish to continue to serve guests that choose to join us.”

“If we’re allowed to stay open [and] we think it’s right for the community and for our business, we’ll certainly do whatever we can to help,” Gully said.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.