Park Theatre bursts back on the scene with new vigor post-pandemic

For months, nothing happened — no shows, no parties, no music, no people.

Then, suddenly, with the opening up of the country, the Park Theatre in Holland’s downtown is bursting with life.

Concerts, open-mics, art events, top-bill comedy acts — “We’re trying to do a year’s worth of work in a month,” Brandon Blank, general manager and venue coordinator says.

The nonprofit theater has been cautious throughout the pandemic in an effort to protect the public, Blank says. Even with things opening up this spring, staff couldn’t book shows very far out with uncertainty still in the air. Then, in the last week of June, the floodgates opened.

The first open-mic night earlier this month had nearly four times the usual audience. And the theater is announcing new shows several times a week on its Facebook page.

A slew of comedians will hit the Park Theatre stage in the coming months, including Adam Ferrara, Gary Owens, Eddie Griffin, the Non-Virtual Comedy Tour with headliner Jeff Leeson, Michael Winslow, made famous for his sound effects in the Police Academy movies, and Last Comedian Standing winners John Heffron and Jon Reep.

“People need to laugh. People need to have fun,” Blank says.

Music is also on the docket with King Possum, The Wildwoods, Ernie Clark and the Magnificent Bastards and Old Mountain Acid Test, Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate, the Ol’ Microtones, and 2019 and 2020 ‘Blues Rock Artist of the year’ Eric Gales.

The forced pause of the pandemic allowed the Park Theatre to reinvent itself a little and move toward becoming more of a well-rounded entertainment venue. Weddings and other private parties are filling up times not taken by ticketed events. The Paint in the Park with Fris Supply Shop series of guided art classes (“Bob Ross — only with mimosas,” Blank says.) has been added along side the comedy and other events.

Of course, the Park’s popular Legends series will return as well. Acts such as Elton Rohn and Kashmir will belt out tunes once a month throughout the year instead of one annual eight-week series dubbed “Legends Month.”

Like many, as COVID hit American shores and restrictions first shut down businesses, Blank thought the pandemic would last a month.

During pandemic, the Park Theatre furloughed employees, turned off any utilities it could, unplugged coolers, returned unused products to distributors and alcohol to the state, kept the thermostat at 50 degrees in the winter, and applied for grants — anything they could think of to make it through, Blank says.

After more than a year of zero income from ticket sales, the nonprofit theater is working with a skeleton crew of six people, less than half the staff pre-pandemic. Volunteer opportunities could become available, and more staff will be hired this fall.

“Every decision we make really affects the community, so we don’t take any decision lightly. Our community means more to us than keeping the lights on. But here we are. We’re still here,” he says.

It felt, he says, a little bit like “a trust fall down the side of the mountain.”

“It kind of turned into a 13-month nightmare for us,” he says. “But it gives us all the more reason to come back at it and come back at it strong.”

If the first Open-Mic Night July 13 was any indication, the reopening is going better than anyone could have imagined, Blank says.

Performers sign up in advance on the Park Theatre Open-Mic Night Facebook page for a 15-minute slot. Anyone from comedians to musicians to poets can sign up. Usually about 50 people line up at the door to buy  the $3 tickets. In its first outing since the pandemic, the Park Theatre’s Open-Mic Night hosted nearly 200 people.
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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.