Beyond COVID-19

Planning for What Comes Next
Performing arts organizations get creative

Performing Arts organizations across the country have taken major financial hits, and all are thinking and strategizing about their futures.  Amid the worry, there are rays of hope, as expressed in recent media coverage across the U.S.

This page will be updated as new stories emerge.


San Francisco Bay Area

Magic Theatre
Loretta Greco, artistic director
Our spring gala, which was to happen on March 19, is now being retooled as a remote late summer event. We will survive. This uninvited existential retreat has us questioning assumptions, re-examining our values, and rigorously examining the way we make and deliver our work, and for whom that work is for.

Word for Word
Susan Harloe, co-founder and artistic director
We are a company that performs short works of fiction verbatim. We take it from the page to the stage. Can we perform in theaters? We don’t know. I’m concerned about live performance with an audience in general. It is great to live-stream stuff, but to me the whole point of theater is the beating heart, the audience and actors experiencing a story together and grappling with the human condition. We have a 223-seat theater and an 80-seat theater, at Z Space. We are a core company of nine, and we use actors from all over the Bay Area as well. Z Space was fortunate to get a small business loan from the federal government, which helps pay the staff. We have to be flexible, we have to be nimble, and we have to find a way to keep creating art and bringing it to our audience.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Susie Medak, managing director
At the moment, we are planning a midwinter start and to produce seven plays like we always do. We are talking about collaborations with other companies, and we are experimenting with the subscription model. We are looking at doing everything differently, and there is something rather stimulating about that.

American Conservatory Theatre
Jennifer Bielstein, executive director
We are looking at the social distancing measures we need to have in place for audiences and how that will look for actors and for people behind the production. Might we be in a place where some people will come and see the show in person and others will watch a live stream of the production because they are in a vulnerable population and don’t want to go out? We do know that ACT will be smaller, with fewer performances, for a period of time, as there will be less work until people can return to the theater.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Phil Santora, executive director
The public has been generous. On the first show we canceled, 70% donated the cost of their tickets back. Our new artistic director, Tim Bond, arrived last week with his stuff in U-Haul boxes. He and Robert Kelley are working together to figure this out. We’ve already been able to get stuff online, like our production “Pride and Prejudice” from December. Opening night, April 10, got 160,000 viewers from 14 countries, according to Variety. On Mother’s Day, we partnered with other regional theaters to present the live-streamed musical event “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin.” Until we can all gather together in person again, we will adapt and be creative in order to share our love of live theater.


Michigan

Peppermint Creek Theatre Company, Lansing
Chad Swan-Badgero, Artistic Director
The company's website now includes myriad options for accessing performances all across the country. [I believe that] streaming services will expand what theaters are capable of and learning new technological capabilities will make them better. I think that will really push theaters into a new world of accessing audiences in different ways we never thought about or were too nervous to try.I hope that the new normal is that we appreciate so many things that we took for granted before the quarantine.”

Grand Rapids Arts Working Group
Representing 20 Grand Rapids-based arts and culture organizations, we hope [patrons] will consider making a charitable gift, donating the value of tickets purchased for canceled events back to the issuing organization, or donating the value of your membership. You can also help sustain us by purchasing tickets for a future performance or event, and making a public commitment to visit a gallery, attend a performance, sign up for a class, or volunteer for an event when present pandemic-related orders are lifted.

In the meantime, your arts and cultural community is collectively here for you. We know the power of the arts to heal, bring people together, and provide illumination of the good in times of darkness. We therefore remain committed to sharing and leveraging our creative gifts during this time—albeit in new ways—to help everyone in our community connect, reflect, be entertained, and find solace. Please follow our social media channels and visit our web sites for specially-curated content you can experience from home.

We are in this together now, and we will be there for you in the future, providing you with interesting immersions, one-of-a-kind events, the best in performing arts, places for volunteers to give of their talents, and valuable educational experiences. During this time of unprecedented hardship, stay with us, support us, and create with us.


Florida

Miami New Drama
Nicholas Richberg, Managing Director.
This will be a defining time for the theater community. No two boats are exactly alike, but we’re all navigating the same waters. I think it will change us and all companies forever, for the most part for the better. We have to face realities about the world, about habits, about new ways of doing things.

Arsht Center (Miami)
Johann Zietsman, President and CEO
Crises have a way of forcing us to rethink, reshape and be extraordinarily creative.We are having to think about business not as usual, in creative ways. Some societal changes are already happening, and this will accelerate some aspects of our ever-increasing virtual life. But human beings are social animals, and the need to physically gather to enjoy a shared experience will always be part of our DNA. This is a moment to reflect on what our shared experiences in the future might look like – to meet the post-COVID community where they are.


Massachusetts

Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston
Christopher V. Edwards, artistic director
When we all come out of this eventually, does this change our programming going forward? What kinds of things are people going to want to see after being in their houses for months? It might be a time when people are looking to be socially conscious, or they might just want escapism. 
If theaters do turn to safer, crowd-pleasing fare in order to rebound financially, that will mean an uphill struggle for the kind of new and experimental work that smaller theaters in particular pride themselves on. 

New Repertory Theatre, Watertown
Michael J. Bobbitt, Artistic Director
This is going to force us to rethink the business model that we’ve been operating under for a long, long time, It might be time, in the interest of giving theaters greater flexibility in this moment of uncertainty, to reexamine the longstanding practice of committing to a fixed slate of productions that are staged one after another over a period of months.


Texas

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas
Debbie Storey, President and CEO

[From a story in the Dallas News]
After the threat dissipates, look for the arts companies that survive to zero in on these key areas:

1) Endowments. Dallas has long been considered a distant second to Houston when it comes to endowments in the arts. The AT&T Performing Arts Center oversees the Moody Fund on behalf of the Moody Foundation, whose $10 million endowment provides grants to the city’s smaller arts organizations. ATTPAC’s own endowment is, Storey said, a third of that. What an endowment is not, Storey said, is a savings account. Most endowments are tied to investments. As the market dips, so too does the endowment. It is not a rainy-day fund. Even so, endowments need to grow.

2) Rainy-day funds. You hear financial advisers say all the time that each individual American needs to have in the bank the equivalent of one year’s income to ward off economic catastrophe. It would be nice, albeit unlikely, Storey said, for a company to raise enough to cover a year’s worth of operating expenses.

3) Insurance. Storey acknowledged that ATTPAC and other companies are already negotiating with insurance carriers to see if they can be insured in the future for what has now been labeled a global pandemic. South by Southwest learned the hard way that, while it had good insurance, it didn’t cover a penny if the cause of cancellation was disease.

4) Online alternatives. Dozens of companies are already exploring how to broadcast their shows over the internet or even television. It works well for an individual singer-songwriter, many of whom have resorted to it already, but for a major arts organization? It’s a work in progress.

 

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