Weinberg Empty Stage

A single chair rests under the spotlights on stage at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. The theater and stage have been dark since the pandemic shutdown in mid-March.

Largely empty since March, Frederick’s Weinberg Center for the Arts is eying a chance to return to the spotlight, hopefully sometime in 2021.

But as with so much involving the COVID-19 virus pandemic, it’s a waiting game.

As vaccinations against the virus continue to become available, the Weinberg’s manager is hopeful that some type of public activity can return to the center in the spring. But it remain to be seen.

“I am hoping that we will continue to see more people in compliance with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and the number of cases continue to drop,” John Healey, executive theater manager for the Weinberg, wrote in an email Thursday. “On the truly optimistic scale, I would hope that we can start to have some type of public activities come April 2021 with eventual full capacity operations by the fall of 2021.”

Healey said he’s working with groups who traditionally hold dance recitals at the center in May and June to try and figure out if there’s a way to hold those programs with limited capacity, such as filming performances and streaming.

At a Frederick Board of Aldermen workshop Wednesday, city Budget Director Katie Barkdoll said the Weinberg would be closed “for the foreseeable future,” and a staff report noted that no timeline for reopening had been set.

While that’s true for public events, the center has been doing some virtual performances and a few private filming events, Healey said.

Until jury trials were stopped in December, the county was also renting out the Weinberg for jury selection.

For public productions, the Weinberg is presently limited to 100 people, including staff, artists and patrons. That doesn’t really make it fiscally worthwhile even to screen a movie, Healey said.

The city has been very supportive of the five full-time staff, he said, with no one laid off or furloughed.

But part-time seasonal or hourly workers have been retained on a very limited basis, since there are not really any activities for which to hire them.

The city, which helps support the Weinberg, budgeted $131,000 for the center in the current fiscal 2021 budget. The staff report for the Wednesday workshop noted that if the center remains closed through the end of the fiscal year in June, it would require an extra $344,000 from the city.

That money would come from the city’s general fund, using either available money or reserves, Barkdoll said in an email.

Dealing with nearly a year of inactivity has been difficult for the center’s staff, Healey said.

“Like nearly every other service based industry in this country it has been a frustrating, challenging, depressing — but sometimes creative and rewarding — time as we have been forced to problem solve and adapt to new working methods,” he said. “All the staff miss the excitement and anticipation of the audience as they arrive at a performance and feeling the connection that builds between the artist and patrons. Those feelings are our rewards and the silence we have experienced this year has had a deep impact.”

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP

Ryan Marshall is the transportation and growth and development reporter for the News-Post. He can be reached at rmarshall@newspost.com.

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