It’s the season for social distancing, which means theaters, dance companies and musical groups across the country have had to cancel big-ticket holiday shows they rely on for revenue. The cancellations have been a huge blow to their bottom line and the communities that rely on them for holiday cheer.

In a typical year, the Washington, D.C. Gay Men’s Choir holiday spectacle involves 300 singers in flashy costumes in front of a packed audience. But this year, the COVID Grinch stole Christmas.

“Unfortunately, singing is one of the most dangerous things to do right now,” said Thea Kano, artistic director of the choir. The holiday show is cancelled, replaced with a video people can stream for $25. Kano isn’t sure how many customers will bite.

“The December show is our biggest source of income,” she said. “Frankly, we don’t know how much we’re going to be able to bring in.” The holiday event typically brings in 10% to 12% of their overall income.

History Ford’s Theater in downtown Washington, DC, typically sells about 30,000 tickets a year for its production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” according to theater manager Paul Tetreault. The theater had to cancel this year’s race due to security concerns and the city’s crowd size restrictions.

“[‘A Christmas Carol’] generates $2.5 million in ticket sales,” he said. “It’s about 20% of our budget.”

The theater was unable to employ many of the actors, designers and technicians it usually works with on productions. The theater also laid off administrative staff.

Some arts leaders like Tetreault say the only way to survive in the new year is for the federal government to step in with financial support. They are pushing for dedicated relief for workers and arts venues.

But even in this dire landscape, many arts groups are finding new ways to reach their audiences. The Maryland Youth Ballet is releasing a film version of its annual classic, “The Nutcracker.” To secure rehearsals, ballet school director Deidre Byrne has designated socially distanced spots on the floor for each child.

“We are dancing in a box. Like, I choreographed the snowflakes, and they never leave their boxes,” Byrne said.

Usually, the show brings in $130,000 in profit, she said. Byrne doesn’t expect that amount this year, but the school plans to continue offering dance lessons for as long as possible.

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