‘Adversity Engenders Creativity’
Someday this current health related crisis will be under control.
With all of the uncertainty and havoc it’s created, one of many questions that remains unclear is what Connecticut theater will look like once it’s safe to gather in crowds again.
Will all our professional companies survive?
No one knows.
Theaters struggle for money; the ticket purchases cover a relatively small percentage of costs for productions. Theaters depend on donations and grants to pay the bills. The coronavirus crisis has jeopardized the financial health of many Connecticut theaters. Some already were facing economic difficulties, but now these are more severe and more commonplace.
Michael Gennaro, managing producer for Goodspeed, admits it would be painful if any theater closed; the managing director at Westport Country Playhouse, Michael Barker said, “Theater has and always will be a communal way to help work through what life throws at us and it will be again.”
Yet, though Gennaro is convinced that “Goodspeed will survive,” he asks, “What will it look like?”
Drastic measures have already been taken.
Hartford Stage decided to not fill some open positions, eliminated some positions, plus laid off about 70 percent of its work force. In fact, just 14 staff members remain.
Goodspeed has also taken drastic measures: All staff will be furloughed for two weeks; some staff will be on longer furloughs and others will work remotely at reduced pay and hours. Gennero said “my biggest concern is to keep the staff as long as possible and make sure they have health coverage.”
While other theaters have not publicly announced layoffs or furloughs, they have occurred. Box office personnel who are handling ticket refunds are still at work.
Goodspeed will do only two shows this year. The season will begin with the new musical Anne of Green Gables, still scheduled to begin performances on July 10. Following that, the planned spring production of South Pacific will replace the scheduled production of Candide.
The theater was lucky, Gennaro said, that most of the cast and production team for South Pacific including director Rob Ruggiero were available for the fall date, otherwise Goodspeed wouldn’t have done it.
According to Gennaro, the entire season at the Terris Theatre in Chester is being postponed to 2021. It was a new format, called Worklight, featuring more simple, semi-staged productions of new works.
Westport Country Playhouse, whose season runs from April to November, will now open in July. Only three productions will be produced; two shows have been postponed to future seasons.
The season will open (July 14 to Aug. 1) with the reimagined version of Ain’t Misbehavin’, the well-known review that focused on the music written or made famous by Fats Waller. A new comedy, Tiny House, will play Sept. 1 to 19. It’s a comedy about friends, family, and neighbors gathering for a July Fourth barbecue at an isolated mountain paradise. The season will conclude with Next to Normal (Oct. 4 to 24), the Tony-winning musical. It had been scheduled to begin the season.
According to Managing Director Michael Barker, the theater is opening online programming until the season begins.
“This is a difficult time for nonprofit regional theaters, but adversity engenders creativity,” Barker said. “Our staff is still on board in all departments, working behind the scenes to stay connected with our audience and preparing for the lights to go up again.”
Long Wharf has canceled its final show of the year, The Great Leap. The Bushnell is not sure about the last two shows in its Broadway season: Escape to Margaritaville and Dear Evan Hansen. It may depend if the tours are canceled and the coronavirus situation. Some tours have canceled; others are on hiatus. The Bushnell announced its upcoming Broadway series for 2020-’21 (Hamilton is supposed to make a return visit) after this went to press. The theater did not hold its usual party for the announcement.
Rob Ruggiero, artistic director at TheaterWorks, wrote, “Our team is busy exploring ways to keep us all engaged and connected so stay tuned for some fun ‘on-line’ programming.”
Going On Line
It might seem that online programming is the way to go. Yet there are many difficulties. Not every theater records the productions and sometimes the recordings are not broadcast quality. Recording a broadcast quality video is another expense. Gennaro said the real issues involved in even putting archive videos on online are the various permissions and costs associated with it. Typically the cast and production people have to grant permission and must be paid a royalty. Currently, the theatrical unions are working with the theaters and producers to streamline the requirements and costs.
The Connecticut Critics Circle will make a decision soon about its annual awards program. About 75 percent of the eligible shows opened before the crises hit.
The Tony Awards are worth millions to producers; even nominations boost the box office. Plus the televised awards ceremony gives theater as a whole and many shows needed publicity. But they have been postponed, with a new date to be announced.
March and April are the big months for Broadway openings; producers aim to open in that period just before the deadline for nominations, believing that opening close to the nomination deadline gives a better chance of being remembered. This year, as most years, nearly 50 percent of the shows were scheduled to open in March and April.
Who knows when many of these shows will open or if they will open? Already two dramas have announced they will not reopen. The Hangman, an off-Broadway and London hit and the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were both in previews before the shutdown. They won’t reopen. Other Broadway and off-Broadway awards programs have already canceled this year’s programs.
Need a Theater Fix?
For theater lovers, here are some ways you can get your theater fix. Since these are changing rapidly, the best way to stay current is to check playbill.com or another of the theater sites such theatermainia.com or Facebook groups.
Public Television: If you donate to CPTV or Channel 13, you have access to Passport, which allows for viewing of previously aired shows. Here you can find everything from musicals: The King and I, 42nd Street, and Kinky Boots to dramas and comedies including Red, Much Ado About Nothing, and documentaries of theater people. Some of these are available even if you are not a member/contributor.
Prime: Shows are also available on Amazon Prime to stream. Just available is a concert presentation of Carousel broadcast on PBS Live from Lincoln Center in 2013. It started Kelli O’Hara as Julie Jordan, opera star Nathan Gunn as Billy Bigelow, Jessie Muller as Carrie, Jason Danieley as Mr. Snow, and others. Even the ballet featured an all-star group of dancers.
Streaming: Lots of streaming sites have popped up. Stars in the House features a daily live streamed concert series at 2 and 8 p.m. It’s at actorsfund.org. Obviously they hope you will donate to help theater professionals. Among those who performed are Kelli O’Hara, Betty Buckley, Kristin Chenoweth, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and many, many more.
The Irish Rep is offering a series of homemade videos of songs, poems, and monologues from Irish and Irish-American plays, poets, and musicians. It’s at irishrep.org/theshowmustgoonline.
Check out the Playbill YouTube channel; among the things available is the original video series From Ballet to Broadway that features interviews and clips of famous dancers and choreographers.
New York City Center is posting daily highlights from its musical vault including selections from its Encores! Encores! Off-Center and its Gala productions. These include selections from Follies and others.
Since more and more is becoming available, keep checking the major theater sites and the major streaming sites.