What was supposed to be the year for a half-century celebration for the Andria Theatre has been turned upside down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of commemorating 50 years of existence, the staff is concerned whether the downtown Alexandria theater will be able to stay afloat after the cancellation of three productions and the theater’s biggest fundraising event, Art in the Park.

David Christman, Andria Theatre’s artistic director, said with the postponed dates for “Frozen,” the cancellation of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and the Student Theatre Project productions of “Grease,” and “Aladdin,” along with canceling Art in the Park, the theater is looking at a more than $163,000 loss.

“This is a very bleak time for the Andria,” said Christman. “We are not confident that she will survive. And that is the honest truth.”

David Christman
David Christman

Virus makes an impact

Ann Hermes, the theater’s executive director, agreed saying that COVID-19 has been devastating to the theater.

“We have no idea when we’ll be able to open up for a season of productions,” said Hermes. “If the fall and holiday productions need to be canceled, that will mean further big hits to the theater’s income. The theater enjoyed its three past seasons that positioned the theater in a very positive financial light. But COVID-19 knocked it out in one fell swoop.”

Hermes said the opening depends on the restrictions set in place by the governor and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“As eager as we all are to have things normalize, either the board of directors or the staff wouldn’t want to take any missteps that could adversely affect public health,” said Hermes.

Ann Hermes
Ann Hermes

Currently, the theater is able to open to 25% capacity, which means 91 people, minus the number of people on stage. Hermes said the board gave the go-ahead to do a live Quad Squad improv comedy show, which is set for June 26 at 7 p.m. However, there are restrictions put in place for this show.

All patrons will be required to wear a mask from the moment they enter the theater until they leave, said Hermes. Additionally, the bathrooms and water fountain will be restricted from use, but she said not to worry as it is only a 30-minute show. Also, there will not be any concessions for sale.

She also said that this is a solitary show as the theater must prepare the environment before considering doing multiple shows.

“In today's world, that would mean being able to disinfect spaces between productions. That's a mighty task given how the auditorium is laid out,” she said. “With people maintaining social distancing, keeping track of who is sitting where in order to do a proper job of disinfecting adds a layer to maintenance. Not only that, being able to afford the crew and equipment to do the job is another huge financial consideration.”

She added, however, that everyone is excited to finally be allowing patrons into Andria Theatre.

Good news on the horizon?

Although there is excitement, there still is the question of whether or not theater will survive.

Producing shows is expensive and the staff and board need to figure out what percentage of the theater being open is the magic percentage that would mean a show makes money.

For example, producing a musical is very expensive, Hermes said, with paying royalties for the privilege to perform the show, to paying staff to get the show into shape for the public, along with costumes, set construction, projection images, props, etc. The cost to produce one show can inch its way up to $15,000 or more, she said.

Right now, the concern is to raise money to pay the utilities to keep the building operational, Hermes said.

There is some good news on the horizon, though, as Hermes said there are some fundraising ideas in the works.

People can go to the Andria Theater website and watch old productions for free. However, people are being asked if they are watching and enjoying them to consider making a donation.

In addition, the flat marquee on the front of the building is available to rent for announcements of special occasions. Hermes said it has been used for “Happy Birthday” greetings and anniversary announcements.

“We’re waiting for the first brave man to ask his love to marry him on the marquee!,” she said. “We are really having fun with the announcements. We are also still offering stakeholders a chance to put their names on a historic piece of property for perpetuity whether its an auditorium seat, a room of the theater or the new marquee, there are a myriad of ways to be involved. And these initiatives will hold the Andria Theatre in good stead until we’re allowed to fling open the doors to one and all.”

Despite the concerns, Hermes and Christman said plans are being made and productions for the 2020-2021 season have been selected.

Christman said an announcement is expected to be made soon on the upcoming season.

“Andria does have the line-up for the next season of shows, which is very exciting,” said Hermes. “It is packed with those public-pleasing shows Christman knows will deliver the entertainment quality people have come to expect.”

‘Yes, we can’

When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the second weekend of “Frozen Jr.”, the gathering of students, parents and crew marking the end of the show’s run was anything but jolly, said Hermes. Typically, everyone gathers to celebrate a job well done, but instead of laughs, there were plenty of tears from the confused youth wondering what affect the virus would have on their theater. At the end, Hermes said a young female cast member was on her way out of the theater when she locked eyes with Christman and asked, “We can do this, can’t we?”

Christman answered her, “Yes, we can!”

“And I say that, too,” Hermes said. “With every donation that comes in, with everyone wanting their name on a seat, they, too, are telling this young actor, ‘Yes, we can.’ ”

To donate to the Andria Theater, visit its website at andriatheatre.org and click on the donate button in the upper right corner.