Hundreds of Las Vegans who normally spend their time and talents entertaining millions of visitors every year returned to the Strip on August 19 to remind everyone that they’re still here and waiting to get back to work. They drove along Las Vegas Boulevard in their own cars and marched along the Strip’s sidewalks, wearing masks and holding signs that read “We are stagehands,” “We are performers,” “We are live music,” “We make events” and “We need help.”
Matt and Angela Stabile were there. The couple’s Stabile Productions company created and produces three successful, long-running late-night revues—X Burlesque, X Rocks and X Country—at three different Caesars Entertainment casino properties, along with Piff the Magic Dragon at the Flamingo. They also recently launched Change.org petition “The Show Must Go On,” calling on Gov. Steve Sisolak to release guidelines allowing shows like theirs to resume operations. At press time, it had more than 4,000 signatures.
“It was good to see so many people come out to bring awareness to the fact that nothing is being done,” says Angela Stabile, a former showgirl and dancer who performed in Lido de Paris at the Stardust and Crazy Girls at the Riviera. “The governor is not addressing anything having to do with ticketed entertainment coming back when almost everything else is.”
Adds Matt Stabile, “I just don’t understand why entertainment has been put so much on the back burner, because no one is going to continue to come to this town without entertainment.”
Vegas shows big and small on and off the Strip, along with other events and large gatherings, have been shut down since mid-March as part of the state’s coronavirus response plan. There’s widespread recognition that the large-scale shows, entertainment and sports events with audiences of thousands cannot safely return at this time, but there’s rising frustration in the local entertainment community that events in smaller theaters and showrooms aren’t getting a fair shake.
Producers of Strip shows like Opium at the Cosmopolitan and Thunder From Down Under at Excalibur—held in venues that seat hundreds, not thousands—have been preparing for months to restart with smaller, socially distanced audiences, modifying productions for any anticipated restrictions. “The economics still need to be worked out with the hotels … but we can run at 50 percent [capacity],” Matt Stabile says. “We have an advantage in smaller theaters. Those huge Cirque [du Soleil] shows have it a lot tougher.”
Spiegelworld announced in early August that it had deep-cleaned and reconfigured the tent at Caesars Palace that hosts its award-winning show Absinthe, installing a new bipolar ionization air purification system to reduce airborne contaminants and replacing rows of seats with a cabaret-style system allowing a properly distanced audience of 220.
“We have a full-time infection mitigation manager onboard who has been consulting with health experts and our casino partners to create a comprehensive handbook and set of protocols for how we will operate once Governor Sisolak and the Nevada Gaming Control Board agree it is appropriate for live entertainment to resume,” Spiegelworld founder Ross Mollison said in an announcement. “With many enhanced precautions and procedures in place, we believe we are uniquely positioned to present our same raunchy and hilarious shows in a way that should make everybody involved comfortable.”
Movie theaters across the Vegas Valley have reopened, including some in casino complexes, leaving entertainers and show workers to watch as crowds gather in similar venues while they can’t go back to work in the same fashion. Sophisticated live entertainment is allowed at the Cosmopolitan’s Rose. Rabbit. Lie. and Bellagio’s Mayfair Supper Club because those venues are categorized as restaurants, and off the Strip, large church services often include live performance from a full band.
A statement sent from the governor’s office to the Weekly didn’t specifically address that apparent disparity, reiterating that the virus and its impact on the state sets the timeline for any reopening:
“The Governor created the COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force, and [it is] responsible for assessing transmission risk levels for each county based on state criteria, and working with local governments to implement targeted mitigation measures that go beyond the current statewide baseline standards. … These statewide standards include limits on public and private gathering size, along with capacity limits for businesses. Restrictions and mitigation measures related to live events and performances are also part of the existing statewide baseline standards. Any changes … would only occur after an assessment by health officials and other experts and confidence that trends in cases, hospitalizations and community spread are in a safe position, along with appropriate response measures in place.”
The August 19 Strip demonstration was organized by an informal group called We the Entertainment Community of Las Vegas (WE/EC), which linked up with new national organization We Make Events North America for a September 1 Red Alert Restart event. Several entertainment and event venues, including Allegiant Stadium, the Las Vegas Ballpark and the Smith Center, were lit in red, with a performance and fireworks display at the Plaza among the happenings designed to raise awareness for at-risk live events industry workers. Similar demonstrations took place in dozens of cities across the country.
The Stabiles have been communicating with Congresswoman Susie Lee and hoping that connection plus their petition will get the attention of the governor. Angela Stabile says she believes everyone is on the same page and wants to get entertainment going as soon as possible.
“Caesars Entertainment is a great partner to us. We love working with them and we’ve been in touch the entire time,” she says. “Their priority, obviously, is safety, as is ours. The bottom line is we just want some guidelines.”