Milton Theatre closes indefinitely: 'This time we just can't give people an answer'
“We try to be really hopeful,” said Fred Munzert, director of the Milton Theatre. “But this time we just can’t give people an answer.”
The theatre announced it will close indefinitely in a Dec. 14 email to patrons.
“The theatre was at limited capacity since reopening in June with events and operations modified in accordance with state regulations,” the email states. “But with new restrictions, it is no longer viable for the venue, performers, and contractors to remain open.”
The Milton Theatre has seen a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs since opening over a century ago, but has climbed to new heights since Munzert came on board in 2014. Last year alone, the theatre hosted about 400 events attended by more than 60,000 people, Munzert said.
The theater has been financially prudent, too, with 100% of operating costs coming from ticket sales.
“I really wanted to stick to that model because I wanted the community to know that if they want the theatre to be here, they have to come and support it, buy a ticket. And people have been great,” Munzert said.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has put a whole new spin on things.
The Milton Theatre first shut down in March alongside other venues. The entire year was already booked. Hundreds of performances were canceled.
Munzert and his colleagues were excited to reopen and rebook this summer, albeit at limited capacity. They quickly adapted by creating an outdoor performance area on the theater’s adjacent riverfront lawn.
But as coronavirus cases waxed and waned, so did the restrictions on performance venues. By the time Gov. John Carney issued his Dec. 10 state of emergency modification, the Milton Theatre staff had already canceled and rebooked performers four times. They were exhausted.
“Our staff was just deflated when that came through. We were pulled back to essentially 16% of capacity. It has just made it prohibitive for us to continue,” Munzert said. “We would have to get closer to 30% to even consider reopening. The booking alone can take six to eight weeks to get everything together.”
Though Munzert said the theater has lost close to $500,000 in ticket sales this year, he doesn’t think it's in danger of closing permanently. They've switched gears from paying the bills with ticket sales to applying for grants and asking for donations.
“The recovery is gonna take time, but historically and happily, when societies go through such traumatic things, the arts recover very quickly. People just want to get back out,” he said. “Once we get further into the vaccine, I’m convinced it’s going to be perfectly fine. It’s the waiting that’s no fun.”