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PORTSMOUTH, NH — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., paid a Friday afternoon visit to the Portsmouth Music Hall for a roundtable discussion on new COVID-19 relief for Granite State entertainment venues, part of the recently passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The meeting was also held virtually with many entertainment venue owners calling in to hear Shaheen’s updates.
The list of those participating included many representing theaters, musical venues, cinemas and acting troupes affected over the past year by the pandemic.
It’s been a year since the pandemic took hold, closing schools, businesses and entertainment venues around the state.
Many venues took advantage of past relief efforts through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which helped keep staff on board and businesses afloat while stages remained silent and empty.
Shaheen said more help is on the way.
The American Rescue Plan includes $1.25 billion in extra funding for the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG) program and includes a provision to allow venues to apply for both the PPP program and SVOG funding.
“I know this is something you all need,” Shaheen said.
For Tupelo Music Hall owner Scott Hayward, the past year has been tough.
The music venue in Derry closed its doors last March due to the coronavirus. Shows were canceled and live performance stalled.
That led to a successful idea to bring outdoor live performances to the A Street venue last summer, part of the Tupelo’s “drive-in” experience, with many sold-out shows and appreciative musicians and audiences.
The drive-in schedule returns this year.
Hayward told Shaheen he speaks with many in his business who are still worried about the process.
“Some are just giving up, which is unfortunate,” Hayward said, adding he is appreciative of all support.
Others spoke of similar challenges like how to draw audiences back when it is safe to do so, and making sure financial support comes to bring performances back.
“It will take time to rebuild audiences,” said Tina Sawtelle, executive director of the Music Hall in Portsmouth.
And challenges also face those businesses relying on movies, including O’Neil Cinemas, with a location in Londonderry.
Executive Vice President Dan O’Neill told Shaheen his business is struggling in the year since his theaters closed.
Kyle Nagel, founder/owner of Chunky’s Cinema Pub with locations in Nashua, Manchester and Pelham, said he worried about what would happen when the new relief funding well dries up and some are left out of the process.
Shaheen said there are ways to safeguard that.
“Too many venues need this help,” she said, adding additional funding could be approved to add to the programs.
Other performance venue representatives on the call with Shaheen Friday told similar stories about challenges, lost revenue, and no audiences in the seats.
Shaheen said she is optimistic with the passing of the American Rescue Plan that venues will see the light coming at the end of a very dark year.
“I want to get back and see a live production or concert,” she said.
And there are things to be hopeful about, the senator said.
With President Joe Biden stating in his recent address that he was hopeful Americans could gather safely in small groups to celebrate the Fourth of July that, Shaheen said, is something to look forward to.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said. “I intend to be out there in a small group on July 4 having a barbecue. And look for positive times ahead.”
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