WORCESTER, Mass. - As the federal public health emergency comes to a close, local entertainment venues are reflecting on the early days of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of whether or not their doors would open again.

At the Hanover Theatre, president and CEO Troy Siebels remembers having to cancel a show scheduled for March 12, 2020 - the beginning of what would prove to be a much longer shutdown than most had anticipated.

"We had a final show, Brit Floyd was in the building, and then the next day we had scheduled a Celtic St. Patrick's Sojourn with Brian O'Donovan," Siebels said. "About halfway through the day, he called and said, 'Are we still going ahead with this date?'"

After the show was cancelled, the Hanover Theatre cleared all shows from the schedule for the next several months, thinking it should be plenty of time for things to get back to normal.

"Which seems so naive now, having lived through the pandemic," Siebels said. "We didn't know what to expect at the beginning."

In the year that followed, the theater’s revenue dropped by 95% and virtual classes were the only program up and running. Siebels said people’s generosity helped guide the theater through, and federal relief was also critical.

“We were able to keep our staff mainly on salary by virtue of a generous grant from the McDonough Foundation, and we did see some COVID relief funds from the federal government, which is the only reason we’re still here," Siebels said. "Frankly, it’s the only reason our whole industry is still here.”

In December 2020, the ‘Save our Stages’ act passed as part of a COVID-19 relief package sent $15 billion to venues across the country. The much-needed aid was the result of months of lobbying from the entertainment industry.

Siebels said it took until fall 2022 for the theater to return to its usual busy schedule.

"You really need to get to about 70 or 80 percent capacity to break even on most shows, and the socially-distanced seating could only get us to 25 or 30 percent capacity, so it just wasn't going to happen," Siebels said.

While the worst is now in the rearview, Sibels acknowledged the theater still has some lingering struggles.

"We have a little bit of a hole to dig ourselves out of, of course, because of the prior couple of years," Siebels said. "But it's going really well, and we're doing well right now."

There have also been other marks of the pandemic that have become a permanent feature of The Hanover and other venues, including a greater focus on keeping everything as clean as possible.

"The cleaning and disinfecting we do, and really the HVAC system modifications we made and the amount of fresh air we bring in has increased greatly from pre-pandemic," Siebels said. 'Those are the lessons we learned that we can apply to the next one."

The Hanover Theatre officially reopened after its pandemic closure in September 2021 with a performance from Ricky Duran. Mayor Joseph Petty was in attendance, and presented Duran with a key to the city onstage.