Sunday, October 25, 2020

Strand surviving; Jonathan Newell: Why they should let us reopen

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Jonathan Newell, right, with Tony DeSare after Tony’s “Homecoming” benefit concert at the Strand on October 19, 1919. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls has been closed since the pandemic struck, but financially it’s holding its own.

“We’ve been so lucky,” its director Jonathan Newell told The Chronicle.

“A couple of reimbursement grants recently got paid out, including one from National Grid. That was one we got four years ago, and they just called and said it’s time to start paying out. Some were for operational expenses, some were for projects, but we already did the work, so now we get the funds back to use as we need.”

They’re await a $250,000 grant through Assembly Member Carrie Woerner, with upgrades planned such as opera boxes, facade work and renovated office space.

Meanwhile, “We have some great donors who also stepped up. We have been doing live streaming concerts twice a week, and people are very generous it turns out.”

Mr. Newell they’ve also rented the space out several times for recording purposes.

“With all that, we can make it up to next spring,” he said.

The downside? Had they been open, “We could have been $100,000 ahead at this point,” Mr. Newell estimates. “At least we will be here when everything returns to normal. But we will be back to like starting over.”

‘Coffee shop with a big space’

Mr. Newell said he’s in regular contact with local and state officials. He makes the case that the Strand can safely reopen.

A musician himself, Mr. Newell said, “I’ve been playing in clubs since July 1. It’s tough to keep order and control there. I would think a theater space, if you can keep the air moving, would be much safer. We can even space people out, seat people in the lobby and in the coffee shop” (separate spaces at the front of the building).

By comparison, Mr. Newell says, “Once people start drinking, they want to hear Brown Eyed Girl. They want to dance.

“We could be open with 85 people. That’s what a lot of our shows draw, and that’s already 25 percent capacity. Classical music concerts, it’s 30 to 50 people.”

“Live music is a big health factor for everybody,” he asserts. “I would like to be open and be a model for what places can do. We could spread the people around, so you can feel the live music. You realize how much it means to people. I wonder, do people at the state feel it like that?”

He laments, “We’ve been lumped in with theaters like Proctors and Broadway, but we are Hudson River Music Hall Productions” — he emphasizes this last word.

“We don’t have a liquor license. We are like a coffee shop that happens to have this really big space.”

“We started like a Caffe Lena (the storied Saratoga coffeehouse and music venue). We’ve just grown into this bigger space.”

Mr. Newell says the Strand’s stage is 1,500 square feet, seating area over 3,000 square feet, lobby another 2,000 square feet, allowing for social distancing.

For now the Strand’s next production will be the Aug. 22 tribute band drive-in concert at Derby Park.

“We’re trying to keep it low key to see the response, the reaction, what the safety is,” Mr. Newell says. “Ultimately, we want to reopen the theater and we don’t want anything to jeopardize that.”

HF Strand: Derby Park drive-in rock concert Saturday, Aug. 22

Hudson River Music Hall Productions presents its first Derby Park Drive In Concert on Saturday, Aug. 22, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Derby Park, Hudson Falls.

The bands: Across the Pond, Beatles tribute band featuring Jonathan Newell and other members of the Strand Theatre/Music Hall house band, and The Brokenhearted, a tribute to Tom Petty fronted by guitarist-singer Johnny Clifford.

Proceeds benefit The Strand. Tickets: $15 per car. Mr. Newell said a Strand Theatre supporter is kicking in an additional $5 donation per car.

“The bands said they’ll take payment if there’s anything, but they don’t care,” Mr. Newell said. “They just want to play.”

The rules: “People don’t get out of their cars, no vendors, no alcohol,” Mr. Newell said. No walk-ins or congregating. Bring your own snacks.

This is in keeping with the state rules that ultimately thwarted promoter Dave Ehmann’s July 31-Aug. 2 drive-in concert weekend with jam band Twiddle at the Festival Commons park in Lake George. (See separate story.)

Mr. Newell said he hopes to hold additional such concerts, if it goes well.

Info and ticket details: www.mystrandtheatre.org. — Cathy DeDe

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