For Some Wisconsin Concert Venues, The Show Goes On During Public Health Emergency

Many Performing Arts Centers Announced Cancellations, But Some Large Events Remained Active

empty seats in the Belle Mehus Auditorium
In this Thursday, May 15, 2014 photo, empty seats in the Belle Mehus Auditorium is seen in Bismarck, North Dakota. Kevin Burbach/AP Photo

Not all public gatherings are being shut down in the wake of the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency.

In some places, events and performances were continuing as scheduled the day after state public health officials recommended the cancellation of any gathering of more than 250 people in order to slow the pandemic spread of COVID-19.

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At Madison’s Overture Center, tickets were still on sale Friday afternoon for performances of the Broadway musical “Wicked” from this weekend through the end of March. The Overture Hall theater where the touring show is being staged seats more than 2,200.

In a statement, Overture Center managers said they are “in active communication with our producing partners about next steps and will notify ticket buyers if anything changes.”

In Wausau, the Great Northern Blues Society’s Blues Cafe weekend event was moving forward with performances Friday and Saturday night at the Rothschild Pavilion. Mike Tatro, the president of the nonprofit society, said canceling the event “would kill us. I mean, quite frankly, it could very well put us out of business as a Society.”

“We obviously care deeply about our fans,” Tatro said. “We care deeply about the public. But we’re kind of on a teetering point, damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s really, really, really difficult.”

Still, many of the state’s venues large and small were postponing or canceling events as public health officials urged Americans to take measures intended to minimize the spread of the flu-like disease that has killed more than 5,000 people worldwide.

In Eau Claire, the Pablo Center at the Confluence on Friday announced it would cancel all events through Tuesday, April 14. The Orpheum in Madison said it would reschedule all events through the end of March at all of their concert venues. A Green Bay performance by the comedian Kathleen Madigan at the Meyer Theater was postponed. So was a show by country music star Kenny Chesney scheduled for Saturday, April 25 at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

Other theaters announced refund policies, the addition of extra hand sanitizer stations and other messages aimed at reassuring patrons. Some including the Overture Center in Madison, The Grand theater in Wausau, the Meyer Theater in Green Bay, were continuing with shows.

In Milwaukee, the Oriental Theater took a middle path. The theater announced Thursday it would reschedule several events, and cap all film screenings at 33 percent of capacity through the end of April.