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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: As service, entertainment industries shutter, workers ask 'What next?'

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The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on Oklahoma City’s large service and entertainment industry.

As restaurants, venues and bars are required to close to the public, many employees and artists have seen hours and wages cut.

The Oklahoman talked with several individuals who have been impacted. Here are their stories.

'I started tightening up my belt.'

Over the past two weeks, Joe Coover has watched his live shows, camps and classes vanish from his calendar.

And no sleight of hand is bringing back the income the professional magician has lost to the pandemic.

"After the first few days of January ... until spring break, that's my vacation time — forced vacation time usually — where I'll be lucky if I do one show or two shows. ... You always got to set something aside for that," he said. "I started tightening up my belt ... because what I set aside for January and February I think is going to have to last a lot longer."

His spring breaks are typically packed with children's camps and live shows, followed by end-of-year appearances at school celebrations and then a summer of more camps on weekdays and corporate shows, birthday parties and other events every Saturday and most Sundays from May to September.

"All my summer shows are already canceled," he said. "What I'm trying to focus on is how to take my business online."

The Oklahoma City performer is working to translate his children's classes into free online workshops via the teleconferencing platform Zoom. He hopes to expand the concept into paid multi-part virtual magic courses, and he's exploring bringing a version of his magic show online.

The entertainer also is using his 3-D printer, which he typically uses to craft props and set pieces for his shows, to create protective masks for medical workers.

"I just thought it was so silly that nurses were being asked to wear bandanas to catch this thing,'" Coover said.

"I'm waking up every three hours in the middle of the night to change it over, so I can make about seven or eight of them (a day). As long as people are still requesting them, I'm going to keep them pumping out."

Coover isn't charging for the masks, but he is accepting donations for materials. For information, visit www.facebook.com/joecoovermagic.

'We were all thinking, "What next?"'

Jame Corly is a bartender at R&J Lounge and Supper Club in Oklahoma City.

Leading up to the closure of dine-in options, Corly, 32, said the atmosphere was already changing.

“Fewer people (were) going out,” Corly said. “It was looming over everything. And when we got shut down, we were all thinking, ‘What next?’

“Life just kind of halted all of a sudden. And as we got used to the idea that we wouldn’t be working for a while, we had to start thinking about bills and food … . It could be a little soul crushing.”

Corly hasn’t yet applied for unemployment and plans to hold out on savings until going back to work. But it’s unclear when that might be.

In the meantime, local organizations supporting restaurant employees have been working to find ways to help, particularly through emergency funding.

But finances aren’t the only struggle.

Corly enjoyed working and interacting with many different people. Now, stuck at home, Corly said it can be hard to feel necessary.

“Beyond financials, for me, those first few days were so hard. Work is a way to pay the bills, but I work not just for that. I work because I enjoy it … . So one of the weirdest things is that we are shut off from people.”

'My situation is the outlier'

Patrick Murray’s last day of work as a server at Cheever’s Cafe in Oklahoma City was March 13.

Murray is a senior at the University of Oklahoma, so he was going to Tulsa for spring break.

In the weeks before, Murray, 25, said many co-workers were still “under the impression of ‘if, not when’” the restaurant might shut down.

“I think they were trying to do everything they could to maintain the day-to-day,” Murray said. “I think there were people who thought this wouldn’t happen and there’d be no issues.”

But once Murray got back to the city, the restaurant had been ordered to close its doors to the public to stop the spread of the virus, essentially laying off its serving staff in response.

“They did a round of calls … once they closed to let us know we were laid off (and) to apply for unemployment,” Murray said. “They asked if I was OK and if there was anything they could do to help ease the transition, could I pay my bills, tips to contact people.

“I felt initially like the communication was a bit poor, but I know there is no guidebook. I think this is unprecedented. ... I think they did as good a job as anyone could expect.”

For now, Murray said he will rely on savings and landscaping side jobs while they are still available. His family said they would also give support, and his partner was able to keep her job.

Many of his co-workers, though, have struggled to work through the unemployment process.

“My situation is the outlier,” he said.

Cheever’s has stayed in contact, he added. They are providing food for employees, and managers said those who want their jobs back will find open arms once the pandemic passes.

“I think an important notion is that everybody is in the same boat,” Murray said. “That is a strange silver lining to take away from this, but there is a sense of community. Despite everyone facing these hardships, we are in this together.”

'I think we are very resilient.'

Ronn Burton works a patchwork of jobs.

"Most artists I know, no one has one job. I teach at two universities and I teach at Lyric and I'm the artistic director of my own company," said Burton, who leads 19th Century Hound, an Oklahoma City immersive theater and film company.

"We are very resilient. Especially if you're a theater artist — although even in movies and TV — generally, you know going in that your job is gonna have an expiration date. This is a three-week project; this is a six-week project. I think the majority of people aren't as used to the hustle as we are."

But the pandemic has caused an unprecedented slew of closures, cancellations and postponements, while also eliminating some go-to backup options.

"In the past, it would be, 'OK, well, I'll go get a babysitting job' or 'I'll go start being a waiter at a restaurant.' Well, now restaurants are closed down and most parents are staying at home," Burton said.

Still, the Oklahoma native considers himself lucky: He lost some income when Lyric Theatre's Thelma Gaylord Academy canceled its spring break camp and group classes. But he is still able to teach private lessons online with Lyric, and he spent spring break rethinking how to teach his acting classes at Oklahoma City University and the University of Central Oklahoma, which have shifted to distance learning for the rest of the semester.

"There's a lot of challenges to overcome with how to do theater over the internet ... (and) when you aren't in the same space," he said.

Some potential projects he's been developing for 19th Century Hound are on hold. He's hoping some normalcy will return by late summer for his company's next collaboration with art collective Factory Obscura.

"It's a day-by-day every-changing timeline." Burton said. "When the plague was happening back in Shakespeare's time, that's when he wrote 'King Lear.' He was sitting quarantined at home. ... I'm hoping that in a year's worth of time, we're going to have some amazing art to share with the world."

Related Photos
<strong>Magician Joe Coover poses for a photo in his home workshop in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Because his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and setpieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Magician Joe Coover poses for a photo in his home workshop in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Because his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers. Coover built the 3-D printer himself...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7060c6df4f4439137328afb9c95eb387.jpg" alt="Photo - Magician Joe Coover poses for a photo in his home workshop in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Because his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and setpieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Magician Joe Coover poses for a photo in his home workshop in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Because his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and setpieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Magician Joe Coover poses for a photo in his home workshop in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Because his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and setpieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1e2856a6dc8e72c95bfd83768f4b046b.jpg" alt="Photo - Magician Joe Coover assembles a mask he made with his 3-D printer. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Magician Joe Coover assembles a mask he made with his 3-D printer. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Magician Joe Coover assembles a mask he made with his 3-D printer. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7198655f30464d85ad7ede9db3fcaf57.jpg" alt="Photo - Magician Joe Coover performs a magic show in the street during Norman Music Fest 2019 in April. [The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Magician Joe Coover performs a magic show in the street during Norman Music Fest 2019 in April. [The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Magician Joe Coover performs a magic show in the street during Norman Music Fest 2019 in April. [The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-237703b037dc48aa8d38095b1bc82771.jpg" alt="Photo - Burton " title=" Burton "><figcaption> Burton </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4503e7e776b4f9e5bd3be08818441d03.jpg" alt="Photo - Masks created by magician Joe Coover await pickup in his home workshop. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Masks created by magician Joe Coover await pickup in his home workshop. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Masks created by magician Joe Coover await pickup in his home workshop. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-72dea2c81eba51f092bc4b63bfd6cf6a.jpg" alt="Photo - Magician Joe Coover's 3-D printer makes a mask at his tiny home workshop in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Since his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers who need them during the pandemic. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and set pieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Magician Joe Coover's 3-D printer makes a mask at his tiny home workshop in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Since his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers who need them during the pandemic. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and set pieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Magician Joe Coover's 3-D printer makes a mask at his tiny home workshop in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Since his live shows, camps and classes have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coover is using his 3-D printer to make free masks for health care workers who need them during the pandemic. Coover built the 3-D printer himself to build props and set pieces for his magic shows. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d3239690f163396d39c4e0614e18e0a9.jpg" alt="Photo - Magician Joe Coover performs a magic show in the street with the aid of volunteer Sawyer Martin, 6, during Norman Music Fest 2019 on April 27, 2019 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Magician Joe Coover performs a magic show in the street with the aid of volunteer Sawyer Martin, 6, during Norman Music Fest 2019 on April 27, 2019 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Magician Joe Coover performs a magic show in the street with the aid of volunteer Sawyer Martin, 6, during Norman Music Fest 2019 on April 27, 2019 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

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