Hampton Roads Chamber helping entertainment venues shuttered during COVID-19 pandemic

NORFOLK, Va. – For nearly four decades, Hugh Copeland has been the “Hugh” behind Hurrah Players, providing community theater around Hampton Roads.

“People enjoy being here,” Copeland told News 3. “It’s one of the factors people move to an area – all of the arts.”

Seats inside the Perry Family Theatre in Norfolk’s NEON District may be empty now, but in a few weeks, the Hurrah Players will be welcoming people for their first indoor public performance since March 13, 2020.

“Friday the 13th,” Copeland said.

It was an unexpected curtain call for Copeland’s theater company while opening Disney’s “Moana Jr.”

“We were on stage that night at 5:15 p.m. getting mic checks, people warming up, and someone came on stage and said, ‘I’m very sorry. The mayor, the governor have closed the city. There will be no show tonight,’” Copeland said. “Of course, we were devastated.”

And as the pandemic started, so did questions.

“’What are we going to do? How will we keep going?’” he said.

Their group turned to livestreaming, outdoor performances and help from the Hampton Roads Chamber for federal relief.

“It was more than vital,” Copeland said. “It was the crucial element.”

Jim Carroll, Executive Director of the Small Business Development Center for Hampton Roads, has been working with local entertainment venues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some have been shuttered since March, others have been partially opened,” Carroll told News 3.

Lately, he’s been providing info on funds, including the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.

Carroll said it’s designed to help pay off some operating expenses.

“It’s an addition to what is already out there,” he said. “If you lose your employees, you’ve lost your employees, and we’re talking about entertainment venues. These aren’t run-of-the-mill individuals; these are individual people that have certain skill sets.”

It’s a resource Copeland is looking into.

“It’s not paying the expenses of even producing the show,” Copeland said. “What it’s doing is making it possible to keep everybody involved.”

A resource to consider, as they prepare for their next act inside the walls of the Perry Family Theatre.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to have the energy if we were performing for a full house at the Roper or Sandler Center,” Copeland said. “It’ll remind us what our mission has been: To provide theater for the community that’s affordable for everybody.”

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