by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com

On Sunday, March 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom may have only strongly suggested the closure of all bars, wineries, brew pubs and nightclubs to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, but his suggestion was taken seriously by many in Ventura County. The effects of Newsom’e request are being felt across the county, as entertainment venues large and small — offering everything from live music to comedy to DJs and theater — have gone on a hiatus. Nightlife, for the time being, is canceled.

(Online edit: after story had gone to press Ventura County Public Health issued an order closing all bars, wineries and clubs. See details in our news story HERE.)

UPDATE: On the evening of Thursday, March 19, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-33-20, ordering all individuals living in the State of California to shelter at their place of residence “except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors.” Only essential services will remain open.

The sound of silence

Bigger venues such as the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks and the Ventura Theater had already seen musical acts canceling shows left and right. With the California Department of Public Health calling for a ban on mass gatherings larger than 250 people, the capacities of both facilities made continued operation untenable.

Last week, some smaller venues held out hope that they could let the music play. Staff thoroughly scrubbed surfaces while ticket sales were reduced to create that all-important six foot distance between individuals. But when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 15 recommended that no gatherings of 50 or more people take place for the next eight weeks, California responded swiftly suggesting a ban that has caused nearly every entertainment venue to close — from bars to comedy clubs to theaters.

Discovery Ventura was preparing to shut down even before a ban was suggested — a choice the venue didn’t take lightly. “There is a substantial ripple effect caused by closing,” a representative from Discovery Ventura told the VCReporter via email on March 13, citing the loss of income for staff and independent artists and costs borne by fans coming from out of town, who may have booked local hotels. “Closing multiple weeks in a row is devastating to our employees and the business. We hold close to an optimistic outcome, but are prepared for an extended closure.”

Discovery operates a restaurant and a bowling alley as well as a stage, so it’s not just concerts that are raising concerns. Bowling comes with its own health hazards: “Bowling balls/shoes, shows, tables, chairs, railings, door handles, etc., there’s seemingly an endless number of ways the contagion can be transferred,” the rep said. “Any risk at this point is not worth a penny in profit.”

To that end, the facility is undergoing a rigorous and thorough cleaning that goes “above the requirements of county health department and the CPDH recommendations . . . in a way that provides no room for doubt that we are a safe place to relax and have fun.” 

Something similar is underway at Levity Live Comedy Club in Oxnard.

“We are strictly following the recommendations and professional advice of state and local public health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Levity Live stated on its website. While the space next to Copper Blues at The Collection in Riverpark undergoes a thorough cleaning, all shows are canceled throughout March. In the meantime, fans are encouraged to look for online programming via the club’s social media sites.

Bob Schetter, organizer and host (with fiancee, Marilyn Owen) of the Camarillo Cafe concert series, made the tough decision to cancel its March lineup before Newsom’s suggestion.

“We’ve had as little as 10 and as many as 86 [audience members],” Schetter said on March 13. Shows take place at the Camarillo Community Center and include a mix of Americana, rock, blues, R&B, world and jazz artists. Currently, tickets are only available for purchase at the door (something Schetter hopes to address in the future) so it’s hard to determine just how big a crowd will be. 

On the afternoon of Friday, March 13, Schetter decided to reschedule the highly anticipated March 21 concert featuring soul artist Missy Andersen. It is hoped that Andersen will return to Ventura County in June.

“We don’t know the full effect,” Schetter said. “The safest thing is just to not have an event. That’s respectful to our patrons and our community . . . We’re not sure if we’re going to close for April as well.”

Most venues are issuing refunds, and tickets purchased for postponed events will still be good for the new date. Ticket holders should contact the venue directly for more information.

The curtain falls on local theatre

Broadway went dark on March 12, and local stages are following suit. Wit at The Elite, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center and Romeo and Juliet at Moorpark College have all had to shorten their runs. Others, such as Young Artists Ensemble’s Farmageddon and the Undercover Crop, were canceled before opening night at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts (which is closing altogether through April 20). Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura is delaying the opening of Almost, Maine until April 11.

As of last week, Ojai Art Center Theater (Ojai ACT) was optimistic that it could keep its production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike on schedule.

“We’re taking it one week at a time before we close the whole thing down,” Teri Mettala, the art center’s director, said by phone on March 13. “The actors are invested in continuing. We didn’t think it was a high risk. No one in Ojai has tested positive.”

Before the March 20 opening, the center was sterilizing and sanitizing, and the plan was to limit ticket sales to 60, to keep plenty of distance between patrons in the 128-person theater. Truthfully, however, Mettala wasn’t sure if people would come out.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it? You don’t know what the line is between panicking and being unsafe,” Mettala said. “There’s just so much unknown — we don’t know how to deal with this or what’s going to happen.”

“If it looks like it’s getting worse next week, we’ll reassess,” Mettala said in conclusion. And that’s exactly what happened: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has been postponed, with a projected opening sometime in the fall.

As with the concerts, ticket holders are encouraged to contact theater box offices directly for refunds and information on future dates.

Art in the time of COVID-19

Due to an abundance of caution, several local museums have chosen to close for the rest of the month, if not longer. This includes the Museum of Ventura County and the Albinger Archeology Museum in Ventura along with its Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula, California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks, Ojai Valley Museum, H Gallery and Studios in Midtown Ventura and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.

Nearly every art institution has canceled classes, workshops and events, but a few are remaining open so that patrons can view art in a safe space, and perhaps find joy, healing and connection — desperately needed in these anxiety-inducing times.

The Collectors Choice Gala at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo (studiochannelislands.org) is being postponed, but “in the meantime the [Blackboard] Gallery remains open to visitors,” said Executive Director Peter Tyas. “It is a large space and I have opened all the doors so that you can visit without touching any surface other than the floor. You can visit and remain six feet from anyone else. If you choose to visit, please do so in your family group rather than with friends.”

Tyas has long been a proponent of the arts as valuable tools for healing, and feels the community needs it more than ever.

“I’m convinced this is a mental health crisis we’re facing,” he said. “People are going to be so incredibly anxious and isolated. What can we do as a cultural organization to help people?”

Up in Ojai, Porch Gallery (porchgalleryojai.com) has delayed its reception for Shana Mabari’s Constellatio : Planeta : Stella, but the exhibit is going up and visitors will be welcome.

“We’re in a unique position,” explained Lisa Casoni, who lives in the building — the historic Montgomery House on Matilija Street — with co-owner Heather Stobo, making it easier to keep the operation running. While they are taking precautions in terms of cleanliness and crowd control (“Only a certain number of people will be allowed in at one time,” Casoni confirmed), they are committed to providing a space for people to appreciate the work. “It’s important for us to keep art alive and on the walls,” Casoni said. “It’s such an important part of our lives . . . We want people to have an experience and feel good.”

You could also pop over to Harbor Village Gallery and Gifts (www.facebook.com/HarborVillageGalleryGifts/) in Ventura Harbor for some fresh air and works by Buenaventura Art Association members.

In trying times, art can be a balm to the soul. Consider your local art institutions for a respite from the stresses brought on by the pandemic.

As the constant stream of updates related to the coronavirus continues full force, there’s no guarantee that the places open today will remain so tomorrow — be sure to contact the gallery or museum to verify.

Some organizations are in the process of developing virtual experiences to be enjoyed online. The VCReporter will cover these options as more details become available.