Arizona Broadway Theatre co-founder Kiel Klaphake is ready to welcome guests to the venue when it starts its 2021-22 season on Sunday, Sept. 19.
“First thing that they should know about is that Arizona Broadway Theatre is still as awesome as it always was,” Klaphake said.
“We are still committed to offering that same, best-quality shows and the best-quality service that they have come to love.
“Obviously there are still some hassles that people are having to deal with and some concerns — legitimate concerns obviously — as COVID variants are still out there and people have certain feelings about vaccines and masks and so on and so forth. That sort of volatile political environment that we are in I can’t affect too much.”
That being said, Klaphake said all workers are required to be vaccinated “within the limit of the law, obviously, with protected classes and such.” Staff in contact with attendees must wear masks, too.
“When patrons are arriving and they are dealing with our box office or volunteers or the servers offering them food and beverage choices, they will all be masked and vaccinated to help protect patrons,” Klaphake said. “We are not mandating anything for our patrons. We are strongly recommending that people do the right thing to protect themselves in the form of vaccines and masks.”
Klaphake said the mask and vaccine recommendation is only to the patrons’ “comfort level.” The venue is continually sanitized and wiped down, while air filters are cleaned daily.
“Our staff is doing everything they can to help protect the customers when they arrive,” he said.
The venue’s dining service is a staple and will continue this season. Hand sanitizers are in the lobby, and signage encourages patrons to wash their hands properly and to socially distance.
“When people leave the night before, we obviously clear off all of the tables with all of the linens and silverware and glassware,” he said.
“We then go through and sanitize the space and wipe down all hard surfaces before we bring in new linens and set the tables with the silverware and glassware. When people do arrive, it has been pretty carefully cleaned for their arrival.”
Journey to reopen
ABT closed March 2020 and reopened for a limited production of “Spitfire Grill.”
“I would probably say that the hardest part (of being closed) has been the emotional toll that it has had on both patrons and our staff,” Klaphake said.
“From the staffing side, we had to boil down our staff to the absolute bare minimum of individuals to keep the building standing.”
The staff worked to maintain communications with the public, too.
“I would probably say that that was the biggest stressor out of all of it just to try to keep everybody’s attitude where it needed to be,” he said about morale.
During that year and a half it was closed, Klaphake and his staff tried to keep up with pandemic recommendations while planning the season.
“I’m a planner, and I like to plan what the future is to be,” Klaphake said. “I would spend a lot of times saying like, ‘If we open in one month from now, three months from now, six months from now, a year from now,’ what does that look like if I were to look into my crystal ball and predict what the future will be.
“To plan a theater season, it takes a long time. You don’t just snap your fingers and have a show on your stage.”
Scheduling takes multiple calls with licensing houses to determine what shows are available and making sure that directors, designers and casts were prepared for the upcoming season.
“I think when we started (the last season this January) we immediately had to look into what the next season was going to look like, and that season is starting with ‘Chicago,’” Klaphake said. “Nine months forward is a really short planning period, but that’s how much long it takes. It’s kind of like having a baby.”
Return of ‘Chicago’
Klaphake said he’s excited to start the new season where they left off.
“We closed down with the production of ‘Chicago,’” Klaphake said. “It had only done four performances on opening weekend. Closing down a production in its infancy was pretty heartbreaking for all of the people who had committed so much into getting it to the stage.”
Klaphake said “Chicago” was the perfect show, too, for this season.
“I think it sends a really strong message internally to our company and externally toward our community that we have hopefully come — I hate to say this — closer to ‘full circle,’ in terms of returning to a level of ‘normalcy,’” Klaphake said hesitantly.
“When we did close down, a lot of the messages we were receiving asked what we were going to do with ‘Chicago,’ because that was the show that was happening (when we shut down). A lot of tickets were purchased for that show. So, to be able to make good on our promise to our community to be able to bring that show back was a really, really important thing.”
With the shutdown, Klaphake said he needed to strengthen the bonds with the public. The return of “Chicago” shows ABT has successfully navigated the challenge.
Entertainment is returning and there is a “positive energy in our industry,” Klaphake said. He understands that the past year and a half have been stressful on everyone. “I think we all lost about 10 years from our life,” he said. Looking ahead, he knows, based on survey responses, that the community is eager to return to ABT.
“I am hearing more from our community how much value they place on coming to the theater,” Klaphake said. “When this all shut down, a lot of event organizers were speculating that there is going to be this really impressive pent-up demand once the lights turn back on. I’m not sure that that is really going to be happening that way.”
He understands that, due to the Delta variant, not everyone is ready to return to live events. Still, there are others who will, he said.
“I’m a firm believer that what we provide is not just discretionary but that it really has meaningful value to people,” Klaphake said.
From a mental health perspective, Klaphake said he thinks patrons need theater “now more than ever.”
“I’m sensing that the value and appreciation of the performing arts is increasing,” he said. “That’s great for us, because what we do is important.”