Irwin's Lamp Theatre reopens Friday for shows, movies

·3 min read

Jun. 24—The stage lights inside the Lamp Theatre will be lit again Friday for the first time in more than a year because of the covid pandemic.

"There's been a mountain of work to do," said Bill Elder, general manager of the theater in downtown Irwin.

Breakers, a Tom Petty tribute band which takes the stage at 8 p.m. Friday, will be the first act to perform inside the building since covid canceled performances last March. As restrictions have been lifted on indoor gatherings, Lamp officials will be gauging how many people will want to return to the 350-seat venue.

Although the theater had not hosted performances in more than a year, Elder said the building was recently cleaned and sanitized.

Elder and Andrea Cartwright, the marketing director and event coordinator, had been laid off since last year. They have been playing catch-up with many volunteers helping to get the theater ready for shows again. Elder returned to work last month. Cartwright will return to the payroll next week, she said.

Even though the state loosened limits on indoor gatherings from 15% of maximum capacity in March to 25% in April, then 50% in mid-May and finally 100% on May 31, Elder said they were not in a position to bring bands in. The tribute bands that typically draw the crowds for the Lamp were not on tour. Those out-of-state bands, which cost more to book, needed multiple venues to make it financially feasible to go on the road. Some bands had members from Canada who could not leave their country because of travel restrictions, Elder said.

Then there was the question of how people would feel about returning to crowded settings. When seating was limited and social distancing was required, the members of any band, plus Lamp volunteers and staff working the event, would have severely limited the number of tickets that could be sold, said John Gdula, president of the Lamp Theatre board of directors.

Because of the challenges of booking acts, Elder said the Lamp will be presenting movies through July. Beginning Aug. 6, shows that were postponed during the pandemic have been rescheduled, starting with Mullet, a 1980s music tribute band. Tickets sold for performances that were canceled will be honored this year.

Acts performing at the Lamp will have a newly remodeled green room and dressing room in the basement, efforts that began last summer, Cartwright said.

"It was gross down here," Cartwright said. "We wanted to make it fresher and a little more fun."

They spray painted chairs that had been left over from a recent flea market and added a lamp placed atop a drum to add to the decor of the green room. A cabinet and table from the flea market were "repurposed" for one of the rooms, said Linda Kovach, a volunteer who oversees fundraising for the Lamp.

The various fundraisers, including selling "cornteen" popcorn during community events in Irwin and at Quinn Brewing, raised money that helped pay the utilities during the shutdown, said Terri Yurcisin, a Lamp board member. While the theater did get paycheck protection program funds from the federal government, the Lamp experienced an 85% drop in revenue from April 2020 to April 2021, Yurcisin said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, or via Twitter .

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