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The show must go on: Theatre Bristol surviving pandemic

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Although the theater is closed, the staff of Theatre Bristol in Bristol, Tennessee have found ways to remain active during this time.

Theatre Bristol was founded in 1965 by Cathy DeCaterina. The theater was first named Bristol Children’s Theatre and became very popular among the community. The theater usually does 6-8 productions each year and participates in community events.

Theatre Bristol started out as a children’s theater and continues to keep children involved. They do family friendly productions, such as “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Les Misérables”.

Since businesses began to lockdown in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them have struggled to keep their footing. Some businesses have closed or had to change their hours of operation. Theatre Bristol is no exception.

Zoom has become one the main modes of communication for many, including Theatre Bristol. The theater is one of the many businesses using Zoom to remain connected with their community and their audience while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

To keep their close ties to the community and remain active with theatre, Theatre Bristol had to get creative. They began doing readers theatre and radio dramas.

“We’re getting a lot of great responses,” said Samantha Gray, the executive director of programs at Bristol Theater. “People are saying ‘this is just perfect.’”

 Auditions for these shows are also conducted over Zoom. To keep audiences interested, the theater wants to do different types of events like outdoor theatre.

All productions planned for the year have been cancelled. The theater’s main source of income is by ticket and concession sales, donations and sponsorships, which puts the theater in a tight spot financially.

“We did get some relief funding, for which we're very grateful, but without more, we can't keep sustaining the same way,” said Gray.

The theater does not have any paid staff. All the workers are volunteers, but there are still bills to be paid.

“We know how to scale back, but there are places where we've got obligations to meet,” said Gray.

Theatre Bristol is not the only business that was affected by COVID-19.

The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America conducted a study which found the pandemic had already caused an interruption among small businesses just weeks after its onset and prior to the availability of government aid. 43% of businesses had temporarily closed, and nearly all these closures were due to COVID-19.

“It's changed everyone's life, how we do business, how we do everything,” said Suzanne Eleas, president of the Theatre Bristol board.

 If the theater can reopen in 2021, they will continue with the productions they had planned for 2020. If they are still unable to open for an audience next year, they will continue with what they are doing now.

Gray and Eleas said they will also think of new things that may appeal to their audience.

To check out the audio productions Theatre Bristol has been doing recently, visit their website at


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