The Varsity Theatre was forced to close in April 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, and since then, the iconic Baton Rouge venue has had a hard time reopening fully, mostly due to staffing shortages.
When the site closed at the start of the pandemic, many staff members were furloughed and have since found new jobs, says Brent McLellan, general manager of The Chimes and the Varsity.
The local music scene has not bounced back as quickly as it has in other parts of the country, something he attributes to Louisiana having had stricter COVID restrictions.
McLellan has reached out to former staff members asking them to return but many don’t want to jeopardize their new jobs, he says.
“It’s almost the chicken or the egg,” he says. “We can’t have more events without more staff, but we can’t have more staff without more events.”
But the theater has managed to stay afloat, mostly due to private events and some public concerts. Everything on the venue’s calendar for the rest of 2021 is a public event, though, McLellan says.
He and his team are reaching out to former in-house staff but also to workers at other venues as well as to any persons who have worked with bands that are no longer touring as much.
McLellan hopes for some sense of routine to return in early 2022, and plans to hold shows on Friday and Saturday nights in January.
“Hopefully we can get that going and show a steady paycheck opportunity,” he says.
Another key to success is gaining the attention of bands traveling between venues in Texas and Atlanta that sometimes stop to play in Baton Rouge, he says.
Hosting private events and concerts has the Varsity headed in the right direction, McLellan says, and is helping new staff adjust and returning staff reacclimate to working at the venue.