Last Thursday morning, DNA’s Comedy Lab became the first arts venue in Santa Cruz County to temporarily close due to concerns about COVID-19.
Many have since followed suit, including the Catalyst, Moe’s Alley, the Museum of Art and History, and more, even before county health officials issued a shelter-in-place order for residents. Co-owner DNA spoke to Good Times about how he and his partners came to that decision, and the potential ramifications for the venue and the community of artists who perform there.
Now a lot of entertainment venues have temporarily closed, but it’s always hard to be the first. How did you come to that decision?
DNA: I’ve been talking about it for a little while. My wife works at UCSC, so she’s been seeing what’s happening on campuses and was one of the first people to say this might have to happen. But we have four owners, and it was hard to get everybody on board. We just had one of the biggest weekends we’ve had. We sold out Doug Benson, we sold out the Irish Comedy Tour. And it was like, “Let’s keep this going.” But like we released in our statement, we care more about the health of our staff and our community and our traveling artists than anything else. I watch the news all the time, and this is uncharted territory. March 22 is our one-year anniversary, so it’s really bad timing for a worldwide pandemic.
What financial risks did you have to consider?
We have a huge overhead. So financially, how does this play out for us? We close for two weeks, but what happens in two weeks? Do we close for another two weeks? How are we going to survive? A major part of the money we get is from rentals, and a lot of our rentals have postponed or pulled out. So it’s not just that we’re cancelling the comedy shows; we’re losing the rental money, as well.
Is there anything that can ease the strain a little bit in the meantime?
For the last several months, I’ve been working to get us a nonprofit fiscal receiver, which I did. I originally went to the Santa Cruz Arts Council and they were full, they couldn’t accept us as a client. So they recommended a place called Fractured Atlas, and we got approved, so we can accept nonprofit donations now. We can hopefully find some deep pockets in town that can help us maintain this important community center.
How have you seen the arts closures, including the Lab, affecting artists?
Next weekend we had Kellen Urskine, who’s a comedian buddy of mine. He just had all of his gigs cancel. So he’s like, “How am I going to pay rent?” So it hurts the artists. How does the artist survive in a time when nobody will book them? We don’t know how it’s going to play out, but we’re already putting creative ideas into action. We’re setting up the experimental theater as a place where we can film and do livestreaming, and I’m pulling together a tech crew. On the creative side, we have a million ideas, but I’ve found a bunch of people who want to help us launch a livestreaming platform.
For comedy performances that are still going on, what changes do you think still need to be made?
What about the safety of the comedians? My thing was we need to stop using microphones. It may seem silly, but you have this instrument that’s three inches from your face that is covered in spit, and it’s not safe. So the way that comedy continues I think will have to go through some changes, as well.
We know you’re a germophobe. What has this COVID-19 scare been like for you personally?
Am I a germophobe, or am I Nostradamus? It’s like when you’re crazy, and then everyone else is crazy, and you’re like, “Welcome to my world.” I’m ahead of the curve.
What will have to happen for you to reopen?
Yeah, we did announce first, but everyone else announced that they’re done through March and we said March 22. We just picked a date, but that’s a floating date. It could certainly be longer than that. Our motto is “Building community through laughter.” So we’re not going to reopen until it’s safe for everyone. We’re really counting on Tom Hanks. I want to see what happens with him. When Tom Hanks is like, “It’s safe,” I think that’s when we’ll know.
To donate to DNA’s Comedy Lab, go to fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/dna-s-comedy-lab.
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