2020 has not been kind to local businesses. Government-enforced measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 forced the shuttering of indoor spaces like restaurants, bars, shops, museums, and the like as early as March. But perhaps some of those hardest hit were the entertainment venues that define a city's cultural fabric. While some of these businesses (like restaurants and retail) have reopened with limited capacity in many areas, entertainment spaces may be the last to reopen, given that by design they are meant to bring masses of people very close together (hello super spreading event). 

 

From comedy clubs in LA to strip clubs in Atlanta to music venues in Nashville, we took a look at six American cities and their iconic entertainment industries (the ones so inextricably linked with the cities themselves). We got the lowdown on how both performers and venue owners are pivoting to survive the pandemic and what the future holds for these beloved spaces post 2020.

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Imagining the Los Angeles comedy scene without iconic clubs like The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, Hollywood Improv, Largo,The Ice House in Pasadena and The Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach is unthinkable. These hallowed stages have shaped the American comedy landscape for decades -- a training ground that laid the foundation for legends including late-night comedy hosts like David Letterman and Jay Leno. Approximately two dozen comedy clubs operate across LA County during less dire times, along with many comedy nights at mixed-use venues. Close these clubs and we’d cut off the largest laughter pipeline the world’s ever seen.

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Chicago’s theater scene rivals that of Broadway, but what makes it really special is its grassroots origins. Of the upwards of 200 companies in the Chicago area, none better represents this than Steppenwolf -- arguably Chicago’s most famous and influential company -- which grew organically from the basement of a suburban church into a legendary company that presents up to 16 plays and nearly 700 performances and events every year on its three stages. Beloved actors like John Malcovich and Laurie Metcalf and actor-playwright Tracy Letts arose from the company and that scene, to name just a few. As a result of the pandemic and its restrictions, its current season is down to five plays with the revamped run beginning December 3, 2020 and running through September 12, 2021, contingent on the pandemic not worsening.

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The gay utopia known as The Rose Room -- not only the premier drag showroom in the Lone Star State, but perhaps the most beloved anywhere on the planet -- is hidden away on the second floor of a nightclub in Dallas, Texas. There, you’ll experience a never-ending party from the moment the curtain rises and the spotlight focuses on Cassie Nova, the grand mistress of ceremonies. On the stage and in the seats surrounding it are people of all backgrounds being moved in spirit as a community -- not unlike a good old-fashioned tent revival, with much better fashion, music, and cocktails, and far less judgment of those who are different.

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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the independent theaters that have long been a part of NYC’s cultural legacy (the city once considered “the gateway to the film art market” in the ‘50s), have been shuttered. We who suffer high rents, cramped housing, and seasonal scents of questionable origin can at least boast a robust indie filmgoing culture, providing a cinematic escape from the city’s realities and an outlet beyond typical Hollywood fare at megaplexes. Head out on any random weeknight and you might get to view a rarely screened 35mm print at the Upper West Side’s Film at Lincoln Center, Harlem’s Maysles Documentary Center, Midtown’s Museum of Modern Art, the Lower East Side’s Anthology Film Archives, or Greenwich Village’s Quad Cinemas.

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Jack Braglia was struggling to figure out how to make adjustments at his strip club. As the longtime vice president and general manager of The Cheetah, he watched other Atlanta businesses open up during the COVID-19 pandemic -- first it was barbershops, salons, and gyms, and then restaurants were allowed to reopen on April 24. But bars and nightclubs were ordered to stay closed until June 1. In the meantime, Braglia dined out a lot, to see how restaurants were handling it and figure out what safety precautions the Cheetah could take.

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Nashville musician Erin Rae remembers getting the phone notification that changed everything. Since releasing her first album, Putting on Airs, in June 2018, Rae had been on the road constantly, playing as far away as Hamburg and Stockholm. For her and so many other indie artists trying to be heard in the crowded room of the music industry, this -- the spot dates and tours, domestic and abroad -- is a crucial part of her livelihood.

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