You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, the Kent Stage owner said about the venue’s temporary closure.
The Save Our Stages Act was created by the National Independent Venue Association to help independent venues get COVID-19 relief. It helps provide financial assistance to independent venues.
Tom Simpson, owner and founder of the Kent Stage, joined a number of small venues supporting the act in April after his venue got shut down in March.
“The act helped build awareness about the ‘gig economy’ that is full of independent contractors and small venues,” Simpson said. “The entertainment business is easy to overlook in times like these, because most people see it as a luxury and not a necessity.”
The act passed in Dec. 2020 as a part of the national COVID-19 relief bill. This will provide around $15 billion in relief for venues and movie theaters. Members of the National Independent Venue Association and other small venues can apply for the money through grants.
“Small venues, like the Kent Stage, help bring in business to the local area and businesses that surround them,” Simpson said. “The Kent Stage has helped put Kent on the back of T-shirts all over the world. Kent is usually the smallest city on the list.”
The venue, which started as a hobby for Simpson in 2002, holds 642 people and has brought in fans from 40 states and every county in Ohio. Simpson turned into a promoter who books about 120 shows, plays and festivals per year.
A show that fans of the Kent Stage enjoy is the Rocky Horror Picture Show that was performed monthly before the shutdown. David Steinberger is the founder and director of the show.
“It is my belief and experience that the Kent Stage enriches the culture of Kent by contributing to the art and music scene within and around the community, something desperately needed in a city that openly supports creativity and passion,” Steinberger said.
Steinberger described the Rocky Horror Picture show as having a “responsibility to create a safe space for queer and alternative lifestyle communities.”
“Without the Kent Stage, the Rocky Horror Picture Show would not be as accessible to the community at large and would very likely deprive people of a very important place to feel non-judged and supported,” he said. “It is imperative that people have spaces to be themselves, authentically and fully, which is why I have great reverence for the Kent Stage and its presence in Kent.”
Kent Stage helped recreate the music scene again in Kent, Simpson said, and he hopes to keep the tradition alive.
“The number of emails and phone calls I get a day from people wanting to know when we are going to open showed me that this place means more to them than I thought,” he said.
The Kent Stage has hosted and partnered with a few livestreams on its Facebook page to help bring music into people’s lives again. The livestreams also help the artists that would be performing there.
“Some people might never be comfortable coming to live shows again,” Simpson said. “We are looking into ways to offer streaming of high-quality video and sound into people’s living rooms so they can enjoy our shows.”
Brynne Mann is a City of Kent reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.