The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted The Palace Theatre in Greensburg, forcing the legendary performing arts institution to make significant changes in its operations as well as its scheduling of events, concerts and performances.
Teresa Baughman, director of operations and programming for Westmoreland Cultural Trust – The Palace Theatre, said the challenges created by the virus and state mandates and guidelines set by Gov. Wolf have been daunting, but theater staff and administration have been working diligently to answer those challenges.
“The theater has a seating capacity of 1,369, but under the governor’s order we are only permitted to have a total of 25 people in the audience for any event,” Baughman said. “That is not based on percentage of occupancy, that’s total. We are strictly and respectfully adhering to the guidelines set by his office and the state Department of Health, and we are doing what we can to still offer quality events within the limitations.”
Located at 21 West Otterman Street in Greensburg, the Palace Theatre had – and still tentatively has – a full slate of concerts, performances and interactive events scheduled, but the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has resulted in a number of those events being postponed to future dates.
The theater scheduled a wide array of events, such as “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” performers Robin Trower, Martina McBride, Terry Fator, Travis Tritt, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Righteous Brothers and more, over the new few months. However, due to COVID-19 several of these events have been, or could be, postponed and rescheduled to a future date.
Baughman encourages patrons to visit the theater’s website, www.thepalacetheatre.org, to obtain up-to-date information on scheduled and re-scheduled events. They may also call the theater box office at 724-836-8000 for updated information on show dates and times and ticket prices. Calls can be made to the box office Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, the theater continues to reinvent itself by adapting to the changes. For example, this week Westmoreland Cultural Trust, which owns the theater, wrapped up its successful “Thank Goodness It’s Summer” concert series, where event goers enjoyed weekly live performances from local music artists outdoors while positioned in sectioned-off “pods” for social distancing purposes.
Baughman said reservations were full for the series – which was free thanks to support from sponsors – and patrons were also able to enjoy concessions from food trucks.
Another idea is to film a series of videos highlighting a virtual tour of the Palace Theater to coincide with the theater’s 94th anniversary, which will be celebrated early September. The videos will feature interesting stories of the theater’s rich history and will be streamed on the theater’s website, Baughman said.
The theater is also working with community partners to implement their own live streaming access service this fall, streaming upcoming performances over several different platforms.
The Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra used their own equipment to film their performance, “Moving Foward Together,” on the Palace Theatre stage, and that performance is being streamed on the symphony’s Youtube channel Friday.
Another upcoming event that the staff is excited about is “Love Local,” a concert series in The Palace Theatre S&T Bank Courtyard August 25-29.
The five-day event, presented by Westmoreland Cultural Trust in conjunction with Greensburg Restaurant Week, will feature 10 intimate musical performances, food from area restaurants and a live podcast taping.
“This event is a great way for us to help two regional partners who are struggling right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic – area restaurants and local musicians,” said Westmoreland Cultural Trust CEO April Kopas. “As seen from our previous TGIS concerts this year, the community really wants to support local small businesses and performers in a safe and healthy way.”
Kopas added that Love Local will be limited to 40 guests to stay within recommended guidelines, but will “still provide a fun night for everyone who attends.”
From 7 to 9:30 p.m. each evening, the tented courtyard will feature two musical acts performing their own individual sets while guests are treated to a complimentary beverage and a meal from a participating eatery.
Musical artists will also be interviewed live following their set for The Local podcast hosted by WCT Incubator artist Jordan Hauser.
The following is the schedule of performances and restaurant pairing:
n Tuesday, Aug. 25: Music by The Bricks and David Distefano, food by Major Stokes.
n Wednesday, Aug. 26: Music by Aubrey Burchell and Louie Castle & The Rooks, food by J.Corks.
n Thursday, Aug. 27; Music by Nick Barilla and Willow Hill, food by Caffe Barista.
n Friday, Aug. 28: Music by Ryan Woods of Habatat and Derek Woods, food by PitTake BBQ.
n Sat, Aug. 29: Music by Pack and Miss Freddye, food by The Spitfire Grille.
Guests may opt to purchase tickets for all five days ($100 per person) or may choose which day they would like to attend ($23 per person, per day).
Tickets are now available to the public through the Westmoreland Cultural Trust website at www.westmorelandculturaltrust.org.
Baughman added that the venue can also be rented for live streamed or videotaped performances to non-profits or artists/performing organizations, provided appropriate licensing has been secured, or for personal use for private gatherings currently limited to 25 including theater crew and staff.
“We are doing everything we can to celebrate the arts, to provide some semblance of normalcy for our patrons during these difficult and uncertain times,” Baughman said. “There is great history here, and we are committed to continuing the theater’s legacy.”
The Palace Theater’s rich history dates back to Sept. 2, 1926, opening as the Manos Theatre, the crown jewel in a string of the Manos family’s vaudeville-movie houses in the region. In 1973, the Manos Theatre was sold to Cinemette Theatres, Inc. of Pittsburgh, and in 1977 Cinemette sold the Manos to local businessman Carl V. Marinelli and his business partner Adelaide DelVitto, and the venue was renamed The Palace Theatre. A year later, DelVitto sold her interest in the theatre back to Marinelli.
In the late 1980s, Marinelli considered selling the theater to an out-of-state businessman who wanted to raze it. A group of culturally-minded activists rallied to save the theater. Before arrangements were made, Marinelli passed away. City leaders, with the assistance of the Greensburg Area Cultural Council and other community leaders, worked with Marinelli’s survivors to spare the theater from the wrecking ball.
City Council authorized the formation of the non-profit Greensburg Garden and Civic Center Inc. to complete the sale of the Theatre in 1990. The organization was renamed The Westmoreland Trust in 1992, then Westmoreland Cultural Trust in 2005.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust has spearheaded more than $12 million in Palace renovations since 1990, including lighting and sound systems (with an infra-red hearing-assist system), carpeting, air-conditioning, Loge and Balcony seating, restoring two murals, creating a courtyard, installing replicas of the theater’s original opera boxes, and the construction of Megan’s Suite.