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Up Close (but not too close): John McGivern’s socially-distanced holiday shows postponed until 2021

The 1,400-seat Pabst Theater was scheduled to host a series of live one-man shows, limited to a 250 person capacity, from November 20 to December 20, with Emmy award winner John McGivern. However, due to newly implemented restrictions on public gatherings at both city and state levels, the performances have been postponed until February or March of 2021.

After missing the holidays season due the pandemic safety measures, the shows will take on a slightly different theme: UP CLOSE (but not too close) with John McGivern. They will still include a fresh mix of old and new tales, from John’s childhood days on Milwaukee’s Eastside to recent events in the midst of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has continued to have a devastating impact on many lives and industries, particularly live entertainment that cannot be held due to the high concentration of people who cannot socially distance. For McGivern, every creative avenue and income stream came to a screeching halt when the coronavirus hit in March.

“I do either corporate work or public performances, but because it’s all live – everything has stopped,” McGivern said. “Even my TV show was put on hiatus, so the pandemic has kept me at home for the last eight and a half months.”

Gary Witt, CEO of the Pabst Theater Group, saw an opportunity to utilize the venue and McGivern’s talent for a one-man show this winter that could generate much needed revenue. With fresh entertainment in short supply during the pandemic, McGivern’s heartwarming performance style was expected to help keep the Pabst Theater going while protecting public safety.

“Gary called me from the Pabst and asked if I’d be interested in doing a series,” said McGivern in late October. “The way it will be presented is a win-win for everybody, for the venue and for me – somebody who does a Christmas show almost every year, and for the audience.”

A few weeks later, the host of the acclaimed PBS series “Around the Corner with John McGivern” was finalizing material for his show, with a couple new segments in the six-part performance, when escalating infection rates of COVID-19 across the state made moving forward with the original plans unattainable.

McGivern said that 2020 has been a strange year for many reasons, but particularly due to the loss of his mother.

“I lost my mom during this, and that happened at the beginning of the crisis. We hadn’t seen her for a month, because she lived in the Catholic Home, and they closed down to visitors. So I could only talk to her by phone, and then she passed in April,” said McGivern. “My mom was 92, but as family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I feel like I’m a 65 year old orphan.”

So much of the material in McGivern’s acclaimed performances revolve around his family, and a lot his stories over the years focus on the relationship with his mother. He was not sure how being on stage and sharing those memories would influence the tone of future shows now that she was gone.

The Pabst Theater was taking extraordinary precautions to ensure the health of everyone who planned to attend. Because of the huge space and low attendance, the building was promoted to be like an outdoor venue instead of a typically enclosed space. But the latest executive order from Governor Tony Evers further limited the number of people allowed at public gatherings.

The Pabst Theater Group said that it would continue to monitor public health updates and follow guidelines from the City of Milwaukee health officials to determine the right time to welcome the public back. McGivern’s main concern for the show is that the audience has a good time, and remain safe, when he can finally give his performances after the public restrictions are lifted.

© Photo

Lee Matz

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