ONLY ON: Florida Theatre president discusses plans to recover from pandemic loss

JACKSONVILLE — The show must go on. That is what the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville is saying, after the Florida arts and entertainment industry took a major hit due to the pandemic.

The agency says the state saw $235 million worth of losses from the entertainment industry alone; and with the recent rise in COVID cases, venues and performers are once again having to pivot.

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Numa Saisselin is the president of the Florida Theatre. He explains, “The show must go on. And we have to be open to be making money.”

The Florida Theatre had its doors shut from March to December of 2020, and only just recently allowed all their seats to fill up.  

“We’ve been at full capacity since,= July but we’ve only filled it once for REO Speed wagon. We were at capacity, which is 1,864 seats — all of those tickets were sold pre-pandemic.”

The only reason the theatre, and so many others in the entertainment district, were able to stay open was because of outside help, and a lot of it.

Diana Donovan is the executive director for the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.

She explains, “Without PPP and without the COJ Cares Act you would not see a lot of organizations that are open today.

”It’s why places like the Florida Theatre are determined to keep their doors open by putting safety at the forefront.

Saisselin says, “We have had performers come in and say, ‘hey, can we have the crew socially distance today? Can we keep the crew out of the dressing room? Can we all wear masks backstage?’ And we’ve happily done those things, and we will continue to.”

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We’re seeing more artists and venues across the country starting to require masks, as well as proof of vaccinations or negative COVID-19 tests.

Here in Florida it’s not that easy, however, primarily because of various orders from the governor’s office.

”There are things we are and aren’t allowed to do in the state of Florida, so our message to the performers is we are here for you … as long as it’s not going to get us in trouble.”

ASM Global, which runs city-owned venues like Daily’s Place, says in part, “Jacksonville sports and entertainment venues will comply with state and local laws and guidelines with specific event protocols based on the requirements implemented by the event owner.”

Another closure just isn’t an option.

”That we’re open, we’re making some money; it’s not enough, but we’re making enough to contribute to our overhead at least keep limping along,” adds Saisselin.