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Robins anniversary muted by COVID-19 pandemic

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Sunrise Entertainment President Ken Haidaris stands in front of downtown Warren’s Robins Theatre, which had its grand reopening a year ago this weekend.

WARREN — Mark Marvin never had a chance to think about how to celebrate the first anniversary of the Robins Theatre reopening.

“After 45 years of being down, we were still basking in the glow (of the reopening) and enjoying ourselves,” said Marvin, whose Downtown Development Group purchased the East Market Street theater in 2017 and spent two years and about $6 million restoring the venue.

Two months after the 98-year-old theater had its lavish grand opening on Jan. 9, 2020, the Robins — and everything else — shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it likely will be several more months, at least, before all 1,350 seats at the theater can be filled for any performance.

“It took off like a rocket ship; it was really great,” Marvin said. “The support was fantastic; I think people really loved it. Then the unexpected happened with pandemic, which was really bad. It’s more bad for the people who can’t come to the performances, for the stores and restaurants that saw a positive impact from the theater.”

Sunrise Entertainment President Ken Haidaris, whose company handles day-to-day operations at the Robins, agreed.

“It’s very frustrating, particularly for the bigger picture of revitalizing downtown Warren,” Haidaris said. “Entertainment was a big component of that.”

Before the pandemic, the theater was on pace for at least 120 dates in 2020 from concerts, theatrical performances and movies, Haidaris said. With a couple of exceptions, the only public events at the venue since mid-March have been movie screenings with a limited capacity.

“What we tried to is keep the theater relevant,” Marvin said of the movie dates. “It wasn’t about making money. It was more to let people know we’re still here, we’re a place to come and see an old movie, eat some popcorn and get away from what’s going on outside.”

They’ve used the down time for electrical work and other upgrades at the theater, such as easing the load-in and load-out process. Haidaris said most are not the kind of changes the general public will notice, but they improve back-of-the-house operations.

Kenny Players, a private lounge that wasn’t finished in time for the grand reopening, should be completed when concerts return. Haidaris said in the next month or so, the company will start selling memberships (which include first priority for ticket buying and access to the lounge before performances and at intermission), but the membership fee won’t be collected until the theater is able to resume operations. Haidaris did not divulge the expected cost, but he said it will be limited to about 50 memberships.

Sunrise works with Tom Simpson of The Kent Stage in booking acts for the theater. In addition to rescheduling shows postponed by the pandemic, they’ve been booking events for as early as June of this year. Haidaris said he hopes to start announcing new shows in March.

“All the artists are champing at the bit to get back to live performances,” Marvin said. “Once they give us the go ahead, we’re going to rock ‘n’ roll.”

With many acts looking to make up for lost revenue in 2020, Haidaris said Sunrise should be able to attract some shows from booking agents who wouldn’t have considered a market the size of Warren or a theater the size of the Robins before.

“We’re going to get a lot of acts that we normally couldn’t get,” Haidaris said. “That’s a good thing. Agents will get to know the venue and get comfortable (bringing acts there). It’s been a short-term negative, but it could be a long-term positive.”

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