After the silence: As theaters re-open, they’ll need support

“Silence like a cancer grows.”

Paul Simon, a longtime resident of nearby New Canaan who was originally from Queens, N.Y., has been ambiguous about the meaning of the lyrics to his iconic song, “The Sound of Silence,” written more than 56 years ago. But during a pandemic the likes of which have not been seen in a century, the words resonate about the foreboding future of American stages.

Silence is the enemy of live theater, but stages were among the first businesses to go dark.

People are trying, though, and thank goodness for that.

Ridgefield’s Theater Barn is closed, but the troupe is presenting a “a concert of light and love” Ballard Park at 7 p.m. Sept 17. It’s free, but they’ll be collecting contributions to help them prepare the Theater Barn off Halpin Lane for a hoped-for re-opening wth COVID adaptations later in the fall.

And ACT of CT, the professional Broadway folks who perform in the theater on the Schlumberger property, are also hoping and planning for a reopening with The Last Five Years scheduled to run Oct. 28 to Nov. 15, with a limited numbers of seats sold to allow for social distancing.

Ridgefielders who feel comfortable going out should support the local theater people — even if they’re not normally show-goers. It would good for the local economy, and might be the start of a new interest.

Because of the planning required to stage a show, some theaters in the area have canceled bookings through next spring. Much of their staffs remain on furlough while musicians are mostly limited to expressing themselves on Zoom and actors wonder when they’ll be able to get back to work.

If anything, the isolation of the last six months has fueled a desire among lovers of live performance to see the stage lights flipped back on.

The National Independent Venues Association released a poll in June that suggested 90 percent of independent music venues would shut down within a few months in the absence of federal aid.

When ticket booths remain shuttered, rent, heating and electric bills keep coming in. This can’t be sustained.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has been on a mini-tour of theaters to take the temperature on their economic health. Blumenthal is putting the spotlight on the Save Our Stages Act, legislation that would provide $10 billion in Small Business Administration grants to independent operators so they can keep paying employees and make it to the other side of a tunnel with seemingly endless darkness.

Sounds like a good idea.

Congress hasn’t voted on the act, but it has bipartisan support, having been crafted by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Republican John Cornyn.

Leaders around the country are hosting efforts to support the act, which could save some of the most famous stages in the nation, such as the Bitter End in New York and the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Artists such as Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish have joined the chorus by writing to Congress.

Blumenthal also supports the Restart Act, a loan program intended to cover six months of payroll, benefits and operating expenses for small businesses that would include cultural organizations.

More voices need to rise in volume. These theaters would not only leave holes in the souls of our towns, but would jeopardize surrounding businesses, some of which have already closed.

That is how a cancer grows in silence.