COVID spells trouble for Hippodrome Theatre

Hippodrome Sign
A COVID-19 outbreak has canceled Hippodrome shows two days in a row.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Editor’s note: The Hippodrome resumed its run of shows Friday night.

COVID-19 has brought the curtain down for a third time this summer at Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre. Performances of the musical titled, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, were canceled for Wednesday and Thursday nights.

“There’s a resurgence. It doesn’t care who it affects,” Bob Robins, the Hippodrome’s production manager, said of the show-stopping outbreak. “We have protocols to protect our actors, the rest of our company, and our patrons.”  

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Robins said that union contracts require shows to suspend production when two or more cast or crew members test positive for COVID-19 and there isn’t sufficient backup to cover for them. The lights are allowed to come back up after the sick have quarantined in keeping with CDC guidelines

The Hippodrome’s COVID-caused disruptions reflect a summer spike in the virus as it continues to take on new titles in its evolution, most recently the variant dubbed “FLiRT.”  

While it’s not the plague that shut down Broadway theaters—and much of America—in early 2020, COVID remains a dangerous bug. Last year the disease put nearly a million Americans in the hospital and killed 75,500, far more than succumbed to the flu, according to the CDC, which estimates that at least a quarter of the U.S. population has not received the latest COVID vaccine. 

“I had almost forgotten about COVID—nobody was talking about it anymore,” said Sanchi Pandey, who plays a snarky, know-it-all character in the Hippodrome’s current production. “Then, we got hit with it hard. It’s been crazy.” 

Some suspect the bug made its way backstage after some members of the company took advantage of their time in Florida to visit Disney World. 

“They rolled the COVID dice, but all of us are these days,” said Hippodrome artistic director Stephanie Lynge, referring to the exposure risk posed by large crowds and close quarters at theme parks. “We are a union house and the union, understandably, has rules that came out of the pandemic.” 

Robins, the production manager, said audiences wouldn’t get the quality they expect if cast members tried to work sick.  

“If you have a fever and are coughing, you’re not going to be your best, and certainly can’t sing,” he said.  

Hippodrome cast
Courtesy of the Hippodrome The Hippodrome cast in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

As for the notion that “the show must go on,” that originated with circus performances in the late 19th century, Robins said: “That’s just not the reality now.”  

There are understudies—one male, one female—ready to cover any of the nine roles in the ensemble cast of The 25th Annual Spelling Bee, which allows for no more than two cast members to fall ill. 

Robins said cancellations that began in June—the first lasting two days, the second a week—have impacted actors, production crew members, box office workers and others who rely on the Hippodrome for a living.  

He also pointed to the downtown Gainesville economy: “Dinner and drinks before or after the show aren’t happening if there isn’t a show.” 

Dr. Brandon Bodlak, a primary care physician in Gainesville, said he has seen an uptick in COVID-19 among his patients this summer, some being “fairly severe cases.”   

“It’s definitely not as deadly as it was previously, but it’s still not very much fun,” Bodlak said, adding that he hasn’t yet had to hospitalize any of his patients during the upsurge. 

Pandey, a musical theatre major at the University of North Carolina who takes on paid roles in the summer, said she’s sorry some shows have had to be canceled but is grateful for the Hippodrome’s response.  

“The theater has been very responsible,” she said. “They have done a good job of protecting us and the community.”  

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a raucous, campy comedy that was a Tony Award-Winner on Broadway, is running at the Hippodrome through July 21. 

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art guerrilla

stop scaremongering… you show your true colors, main st propaganda, with this load of BS…
tell me, HOW were people tested for “covid” ? if you say the RT-PCR test, then you have no freaking clue what you are talking about… the test is (PURPOSEFULLY, you nimrod) prone to up to 97% false positives… you would be appalled if you were smart enought to realize the implications of that fact…


Wow, art guerilla, take a deep breath.

Ragnar Lothbrook

Yup, the Hipp won’t be around long

Elizabeth Jenkins

Florida is among the states that are showing rising numbers of Covid cases, because there is a new variant around & the vaccines have NOT been developed, yet..


COVID seems like the least of their issues considering the non-functioning elevator. They are out of accessibility compliance without it and that is not good for an organization that relies on grants

linda francz

Now that the truth is out on ivermectin the treatment is much easier and effective. I am not surprised if the CDC has not updated their statements


So way past covid but not the local arts. Sad