The Strand Theatre
“That will go down forever in my memory.”
That Friday night, on the stage of The Strand, Jenifer Hill watched the performance of “An American in Paris.” It was the last performance she – or anyone else – would see on the theater’s stage for 17 months – and counting.
“‘Beautiful’ was the next show in a few days,” said Hill, The Strand’s executive director. “It was almost sold out.”
But Covid-19 restrictions brought down the curtain on the rest of The Strand’s 2019-2020 season and canceled its 2020-2021 season.
“We are considered a live music venue,” Hill said. “We were one of the first people required to shut down, and one of the very last that was allowed to open.”
Except for hosting a handful of dance recitals this past spring, The Strand’s theater lights have been off – along with most everything in The Strand’s business area.
“We managed to cut our expenses anywhere we could – all the way down to shutting off the ice machine. We shut down everything we could think of.”
Hill and The Strand’s board of directors also made the difficult decision to reduce the theater’s eight-person staff, furloughing or laying off all but Hill and a part-time worker.
“I scrubbed toilets,” Hill said. “We cut housekeeping. We cut everything. And let me tell you, there are a lot of toilets in that building. A lot. Of course, we weren’t using all of them, but they still have to be cleaned periodically.”
But now, Hill is spending less time cleaning and more time preparing.
The Strand recently announced its 2021- 2022 season (“Places Please. A Season to Celebrate”), including three rescheduled shows from the shutdown. The 10-show season is scheduled to start Sept. 18 with “The Second City – Legendary Laughs.”
“I think this is an amazing lineup,” Hill said.
“Broadway and all the people who do what they do – they’re ready to get out and do what they do. They need to perform every bit as much as we need them to perform.”
If variety is the spice of life, the 2021-22 season will have some kick. You have a chance to see and hear everything from the music of “South Pacific” to rescue dogs performing circus art in “Mutts Gone Nuts.”
“I always look at it, first of all, what will sell,” Hill said when explaining how she chooses which shows to bring in. “My job is two-fold. Part of it is to bring arts to the community, and part of it is to keep that beautiful building open, which means I have to sell that product.”
Having worked some 25 years in Shreveport- Bossier’s performing arts – including time with Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet and Shreveport Opera – Hill thinks she has a good idea of what theatergoers want to see.
“We’re a big Broadway community,” Hill said. “We love our Broadway. We love our music. There is that mix of adult entertainment and family-friendly entertainment. We want to get all the family in – to have the children fall in love with theater as well.”
Following is the Strand’s 2021-2022 season schedule:
• “The Second City – Legendary Laughs” (Sept. 18, 2021)
• “Postmodern Jukebox” (Dec. 2, 2021)
• “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” (Dec. 15, 2021)
• “Mutts Gone Nuts” (Feb. 26, 2022)
• “Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Mar. 16, 2022)
• “The Queen’s Cartoonists” (Mar. 25, 2022)
• “South Pacific” (Apr. 21, 2022)
• “One Night of Queen” (Apr. 27, 2022)
• “Waitress” (May 6, 2022)
• “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” (Jun. 7, 2022)
“I’m always on the lookout for a show, and the Shreveport-Bossier area is funny, too.” Hill said. “If they don’t know it, they’re not going to buy a ticket to it. If it does not have name recognition, it’s very, very difficult to sell. It might be the best show on earth, but if you snuck in and saw it and said, ‘That was so great – why weren’t there all these people here?’ it’s because they didn’t know what it was.”
Without shows for almost a year and a half, The Strand has generated very little income while continuing to pay utility and insurance costs. However, the theater got a lifeline with two Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans and a Shuttered Venue Organization Grant (SVOG).
“We never got down to zero,” Hill said of The Strand’s bank account. “We were able to pay the bills. We are still not in debt. But in order to reopen, it’s just expensive. There are things that have to be done. This is a 100-year-old building. In order to bring the shows in, there are expenses we incur. That SVOG money and PPP money is absolutely essential to getting us back on our feet.”
“Reopen.” “To bring the shows in.” “Back on our feet.” Maybe just words to you, but music to the ears of Hill, her staff – some of whom have been brought back to work – and those who love the theater.
“I can’t explain how normal it feels, and how long it’s been since it has felt normal,” Hill said. “It’s terrifying. It’s exciting. I’m terrified people won’t buy tickets, although what we’re seeing is that people do want to buy those tickets. I am so, so grateful.”
To learn more about The Strand’s season and to buy tickets, please visit www.thestrandtheatre.com.