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Grand Strand arts industries fight to keep going, wait for COVID to exit stage left

Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 6:21 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - COVID-19 silenced theatres worldwide, separating artists from their true love: The live audience.

The plot only thickened for some Grand Strand performers as they continue fighting to get the arts industry back in the spotlight, ensuring the curtain call never ends.

One of those artists is Michael Bairefoot.

He’s known as one of the most award-winning magicians in the country and he performs weekly in Myrtle Beach.

The weekly sound of an audience’s applause is an enchantment to Bariefoot’s ears because not too long ago COVID temporarily made parts of his act disappear.

“I didn’t get to do any close-up magic for almost a year. That’s what affected me because when you’re used to feeling that energy from the audience and then you just go home and sleep, I got a lot of sleep,” Bairefoot said.

Bairefoot didn’t stay in bed for long. Lucky for him, his main stage GTS Theatre, reopened quickly and returned to live-action.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for some venues that weren’t able to reopen their doors as quickly.

The president for The Alabama Theatre Bob Wood recalls the pandemic presenting several challenges.

“We’re not where we were pre-pandemic nights but we’re headed in the direction now,” Wood said. “All the performers love having people out there and it makes them perform better when they have someone to perform for.”

Over at Carolina Improv Company, CEO Gina Trimarco says the temporary shutdown cost her company everything, forcing them to close the curtain for good.

“We could not sustain and pay bills and keep going,” Trimarco said. “People continue to reach out to us wanting improv classes and shows and sadly we have to tell them we no longer are able to offer them. Several of my performers have also asked me if we would reopen and I told them that we just don’t have the money it would take to reopen a theater.”

New data is shining the spotlight on the pandemic’s impact on the arts.

Americans for the Arts ‘COVID-19′s Pandemic’s Impact on The Arts: Research Update’ report reveals it’ll likely take longer than six months for some arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses to recover from the pandemic.

Although job opportunities are up to over 2 million, the report says arts jobs are still down 11% compared to the pre-pandemic numbers.

In perspective, we’re talking over 5 million jobs in a $900 billion entertainment industry before COVID.

Many artists point to the numbers and say the value is there.

Now they’re hoping to protect its existence and shield where some are first introduced to their artistic talents, inside the classrooms.

One of those institutions includes The Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology in Myrtle Beach.

Principal Kelly Wilson says the school prides itself on preparing its students for any career field, including the arts.

“Introducing students to arts at an early age in the community is vital and helps them to thrive wherever they choose to go,” Wilson said.

Isabelle Quade attends the school. She plans on pursuing her art passion long after graduation.

Quade describes art as more than an activity, but yet a form of self-expression that’s needed in the schools.

“Having an art is important for my future goals because I want to pursue art in my future,” Quade said.

From grade school to the governor’s school, one artist says an arts education was vital for the success she’s seeing today.

At just 14, Kelis Herriott participated in the S.C. Governor’s School for The Arts and Humanities summer program.

“I went back and auditioned again for the residential program where I finished my 11th and 12th-grade years of high school,” Herriott said.

Herriott currently studies theater at Coastal Carolina University.

The singer says while being minimized to her apartment during the shutdown, she decided to expand her horizon to television and film.

“I actually booked my first short film over quarantine. It was in Atlanta,” Herriott said. “I think a lot of people view the arts simply as entertainment and not realizing how important artists are in society in general.”

With so many putting their all on the line– artists are reminding you to support all Grand Strand arts no matter the size of the venue.

They say your presence, your applause, your laughter, will go so far will helping the performers and businesses thrive again.

“It’s everywhere, it’s what makes life colorful,” said AAST student Keegan Brown.

Staff at AAST are inviting families to learn more about their program and the majors they offer, including in the arts field.

The AAST campus is currently in recruitment season and is hosting open houses for potential students on January 11 and January 27, from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Current 10th graders and rising 11th graders can apply for the academy. You can find an application on the Horry County Schools website or click here.

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