'Save Our Stages' supports local, independent venues threatened by COVID 

It's been nearly half a year since venues held a live event. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many theaters and concert halls were the first to close, and likely will be the last to reopen. Venues large and small need help if there's any hope of reopening again.

The pandemic has left spaces, like the Pabst Theater in a lurch. Sure, holding small weddings or events can help here or there, but that doesn't replace putting people in seats. That's why groups like the Pabst Theater Group are urging state and federal lawmakers to take action now to ensure the show can go on.

It's been a long time since the lights lit the Pabst Theater stage, with hundreds filling one of Milwaukee's performance venue gems. Arts across the board have taken a massive hit since the pandemic shuttered ticket windows, neighborhood clubs and theater troops.

"We were the first to close, and we'll be the last ones to open," said Gary Witt, Pabst Theater Group CEO.

Witt said when is anybody's guess.

Gary Witt

"As an industry, we very likely will not do another show for the remainder of 2020, and will likely be deeper into 2021 when we come back for business," said Witt.

While federal support helped early on, Witt said independent venues, from the Pabst to Bay View's Cactus Club need help paying the bills.

"Solutions lie in industries like ours doing whatever we possibly can to do to survive," said Witt.

But short-term workarounds like small private events can only go so far, which is why Witt's group and thousands of other independent venues large and small across the country are urging Congress to "Save Our Stages." 

"It would be a real hit to Wisconsin's economy, but also the arts, frankly, if these venues like we have all over the state close permanently," said Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin).

In an interview with the Door County Daily News, Baldwin said the bipartisan SOS Act -- which has a related bill with bipartisan support in the House -- would offer grants to cover costs like payroll, rent, bills and PPE.

"It's not just about saving the Pabst Theater Group, or saving The Rave, Cactus Club, or Shank Hall," said Witt. "It's really about saving the city of Milwaukee."

Because, as the way Witt sees it, the soul and identity of every city is the experiences people have, and if the lights go down for good, there won't be much of an experience left to have.