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 Members of The Ringwald Theatre have put together shows during the pandemic, including this sketch showing what it would  be like if “The Golden Girls” held a Zoom call.

Members of The Ringwald Theatre have put together shows during the pandemic, including this sketch showing what it would be like if “The Golden Girls” held a Zoom call.

Photo provided by Brandy Joe Plambeck


Ferndale theaters discuss challenges of COVID-19 closures

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published July 27, 2020

 The Go Comedy! Improv Theater is one of several venues in Ferndale that has been forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Go Comedy! Improv Theater is one of several venues in Ferndale that has been forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo provided by Pj Jacokes

FERNDALE — Businesses around the world were hit hard when the COVID-19 pandemic began. But as some work to stay open after restrictions loosened in Michigan, entertainment venues have stayed shut down.

The city of Ferndale has a number of entertainment venues, such as The Ringwald Theatre and the Go Comedy! Improv Theater, all of which have not held a show since early March.

Without being able to hold shows, the theaters aren’t able to make revenue as they typically would make it. Instead, they’ve relied on grants awarded by the state and county to keep them going, as well as donations from their customers.

“I’m trying to be positive in the face of reality,” said Pj Jacokes, owner and producer at Go Comedy!. “There’s not really much we can do. So we’re just trying to be prepared, and we’ll improvise when the time comes.”

When the coronavirus was first identified in Michigan, Jacokes said he tried to “read the tea leaves” as best as he could. He estimated then that the pandemic would go on for at least a year, and he tried to plan for that.

“We kind of have been approaching this in a what-can-we-do-to-exist-this-time-next-year sort of scenario,” he said.

That led to Jacokes applying for grants and loans, as well as his landlord giving the business some time to figure out its financial situation.

He’s confident at this point Go Comedy! can make it to the end of this year and survive if it doesn’t open. If they get one more grant, the venue can make it to March.

“If it’s longer than that, I think we have a conversation of ‘How long do we wait?’ because we still have loans from when we opened (in 2008),” he said. “At some point, adding debt is gonna just make this impossible.”

Brandy Joe Plambeck, the co-founder and media director at The Ringwald Theatre, believes his space is good at the moment and possibly into the fall, though he thinks they will need to find more ways to generate income in the months to come.

In the meantime, he stated that the theater has applied for some grants and created online content for its audience to purchase as part of a fundraiser.

“We’ve been really proactive in applying for grants and providing content online so that we could still keep our audience and generate some income, but I think we’ll need to be producing work in the fall in order to stay open longer,” Plambeck said.

“We’re looking for properties and shows that we might be able to do, we can continue to have artistic content out there, and also ways that we might be able to still raise some money to keep our doors open,” he continued.

Outside of the depressing financial aspect of the situation, both owners also just miss performing for audiences.

Jacokes said he’s been able to do some online workshops and shows during the pandemic, but it’s not the same thing as performing live.

“Theater is all about coming together,” he said. “Improv, more so. I mean, it’s literally a team sport. I think ... our skill is bringing everyone together and helping ease their pain, and that was pretty much cut off day one. The community has been, for me, the thing I miss the most, and that loss has certainly led to restlessness. I’ve been onstage every week for 20 years, so it’s very weird to not be performing.”

Plambeck said they’ve been looking at ways to continue to make content, since they don’t know when they’ll be able to get people back in the theater. While dealing with the lack of revenue has been a terrible challenge, not being able to perform for an audience is an entirely different aspect of the pandemic.

“We love our space, we love our community and we want to keep our doors open, even metaphorically right now,” he said. “But at the same time, like as artists, to not have that sort of in-person … art that you’ve created for people and have that in-person feedback and energy has been more hard than anything, just because that’s what we thrive off of.”