Save StageOne: local Laguna Hills rehearsal studio seeks donations amid COVID-19 pandemic

(Courtesy/Stage One)

On March 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced an initiative to close all “non-essential” businesses in California in an effort to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Through the process of maximizing social-distancing efforts and the prioritization of essential businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores, the state of California collectively began the long and arduous task of adapting to life under the coronavirus pandemic.

However with restrictions in place as to which types of businesses were deemed essential coupled with the inability for businesses to profit due to lack of income, many businesses in California began adopting new strategies to survive such as furloughing employees, changing their hours of operation and eventually closing as a result.

While the strategy of minimizing contact with others has proven to be effective in reducing the overall amount of cases that are transmitted, it comes at the cost of major economic turmoil on behalf of employees and business owners. To that extent, several businesses in surrounding cities are facing potential shutdown with the possibility of permanent closure.

Since the distinction between what is considered essential and what is not can be at times vague, it is often left to the business owner to determine if the risk of staying open for business is worth the potential for COVID-19 to spread.

For Stage One, Laguna Hills’ most well-established rehearsal studio, the decision to close down temporarily was made with the best interests in mind on behalf of the safety of the staff and clients. Given the nature of Orange County living arrangements, the necessity for a rehearsal studio is arguably understandable. As musicians struggle to find ways of accomplishing practice routines and finding ways to adapt to the new live stream normal that has become popularized in recent times, the issues that arise from not having a dedicated space to perform in reveals an underlying truth. One cannot perform a job well if they are unprepared.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Stage One Studios founder Robert Elfaizy about the studio as well as his plans for the eventual reopening of the facilities.

Thanks for meeting with me, I’d like to go over a few things, but lets start with the basics if you will.

“Sure, my name is Robert Elfaizy, I’m the founder and managing director of Stage One Studios, as well as the front-man and founder of Oingo Boingo/Danny Elfman tribute band, Dead Man’s Party”

Can you tell me about Stage One, what kind of establishment is it and what kind of services do you provide?

“Stage One is a multimedia production facility featuring a world-class recording studio, offering audio and video production services, a green screen cyclorama, and 6 acoustically treated rooms designed for band rehearsals and sound isolated purposes such as independent podcast and photo/video producers.”

How long has Stage One been in business, what kind of clientele do you serve?

“We opened our first facility in 1995 and have been in our current location since 2002. Our clients range from production houses to corporate media departments, and of course a large amount of our clients are musicians.”

When word began spreading about the pandemic, non-essential businesses were asked to close. As a result, there’s a substantial loss in revenue for small and large businesses. How has the lack of revenue affected you, your staff and your clients?

“We closed our doors and furloughed our staff as soon as the stay at home mandate was announced. Other than myself the studio has been vacant since March 18. I get calls almost every day from people who want to come in to practice, but until we get the OK to lift the quarantine I intend to honor the mandate. I don’t like having our doors closed but it’s for the safety and best interest of our clients and the general public.”

As a result of limited income, you’ve searched for alternative methods of procuring funds. Can you tell me about the ongoing GoFundMe campaign? Were you able to access any assistance from the Small Business Association (SBA) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan programs that were available when the pandemic first started disrupting business?

“Yes, the URL is I started the GoFundMe campaign out of necessity. I’m not a big fan of asking for handouts but really didn’t have a choice for the survival of the business. At that point we hadn’t received anything from the EIDL, and though we eventually received $5k that is far from enough to pay the rent during the shutdown. We were also passed over for the PPP (don’t get me started) but have high hopes that they’ll get to us on the second round. The GoFundMe campaign itself has been fairly successful, so far basically covering about a month of expenses without payroll and lower utility costs. Many of our clients have been understanding and generous with their contributions; because of them things are looking promising. GoFundMe also awarded us a $500 grant through their Small Business Relief campaign, which was actually our highest donation. I am a big fan of our clients and GoFundMe right now!”

Do you anticipate being able to open the studio sooner than later? As a musician yourself, i imagine that the hardest part of the pandemic is a lack of gigs. I myself am struggling on that front myself. How are you personally coping?
“Gigs are the great unknown. It will be difficult to open music venues back up until there is a vaccine, so at this point it’s just a waiting game. I assume that will affect band rehearsals as well, though our rooms are large enough for most bands to practice social distancing while rehearsing and we have taken extra measures to keep everything as disinfected as possible at the studio, including the use of portable UV-C lights to disinfect the tougher to wipe surfaces. It’s easy enough to maintain social distancing in the recording studio, so I anticipate business production will pick back up sooner than later. Fingers crossed.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“Yes, cover your faces in public, people. I’m shocked to see how many people are still refusing to do it, putting other people’s lives at risk. Ignorance just isn’t an excuse anymore.”
For more information on how you can contribute to the Stage One Gofundme campaign, here.