Life & Style
Theaters Scramble to Address Unprecedented Crisis
At the Ivoryton Playhouse, Forbidden Broadway, shown here in rehearsals, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, May 27 to Sunday, June 14. (Photo courtesy of The Ivoryton Playhouse )
I went to see Girl from the North Country on Broadway on March 12, and the theater was full. Yes, there were some empty seats, but since the show was sold out and standing room, those seats were filled at intermission.
Then Broadway shut down on March 13, and, a day later, off-Broadway. Connecticut theaters also began canceling performances and doing triage on the remainder of their seasons.
It made me think back about prior crises.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Broadway went dark, but just for two days. During World War II, some London theaters continued performances even during the Blitz, though sometimes audiences were relocated to makeshift stages in the basements of theaters.
But, this time, the enemy is among us. This is unprecedented. So it is no surprise that information about what will happen, and when, is constantly shifting.
Here’s what we knew as of press time for the Living section on March 19.
Are you holding tickets for one of the canceled shows? There’s a list below. If a show is canceled, of course, you are eligible for a refund or for other tickets, but one way to help theaters, most of which operate on the financial edge, would be to not request a refund or another performance date. Instead, you can donate your tickets to the theater. This means they keep the money and have a full range of tickets to sell for future performances.
All of the theaters are making arrangements to handle refunds and rescheduling for people holding tickets and subscribers. In most cases, subscribers will receive emails from the theater with updates and instructions. Single-ticket buyers can contact the box office either by mail or telephone.
A few exceptions include Yale, which, according to Steven Padula, the communications director, is calling ticket holders and subscribers. Apparently, to process the refund, the box office must speak directly to the person. Ticket holders and subscribers can contact the box office directly at the temporary phone number, 203-654-9443.
All of the Connecticut theaters will face a huge financial impact. Theaters have already hired scenic, costume, lighting, and sound directors. For shows already in rehearsals, these professionals have earned some, if not all, of the fees. Theaters have already built or rented scenery and costumes. So a large part of the budget for a show has already been spent, and probably will not be recouped unless a show is rescheduled.
Even before a show goes into rehearsals, money has been spent. According to Michael Barker, managing director of Westport Country Playhouse, if a show was budgeted at $500,000, about 20 percent is paid out before rehearsals even begin.
Are theaters cutting staff?
Barker says, “our guiding principles are, one, people will gather in large groups at some point in the relatively near future, and, two, producing plays is important. Our aim is to be ready to produce for the community again when we’re through this. Laying off our staff would harm our ability to return to producing when the time comes.”
Jacqui Hubbard, executive producer and artistic director of the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, on the other hand, says they have had to make the difficult choice to run only a skeleton administrative crew to take care of the box office.
“All production staff have been laid off until we are able to produce again,” she says.
Deena Nicol at Long Wharf in New Haven says they, too, are searching for ways to survive the crisis while staying true to their mission.
“We’re acutely aware of our theater’s power to gather dissimilar communities to experience transformative storytelling,” she says. “It is with a heavy heart that we find ourselves unable to offer our new and longstanding supporters an opportunity to witness the work that was in progress. Long Wharf stands committed to combating fear by focusing on staying well informed and acting with empathy and compassion.”
What about the performers and others who work at theaters?
Barker says Westport has agreements with the unions about payments for any artists with whom they’ve already signed contracts.
“In the case that we don’t yet have signed contracts, we are making arrangements directly with artists and in conversation with Equity and others,” he says.
Unfortunately, most theaters don’t have insurance that might cover these losses. It’s unclear if business cancellation policies would even cover this unprecedented event.
List of Theater Cancellations, Rescheduling
Connecticut Rep: Has not yet officially announced cancellations. But, with the University of Connecticut campus shut down and students gone, Men in Boats (Wednesday, April 8 to Saturday, April 11), and Little shop of Horrors, (Thursday, April 30 to Sunday, May 3) are likely canceled.
Goodspeed: South Pacific will not open on Friday, April 17 as planned. The theater will decide shortly when it will be safe to begin rehearsals and open the show. Once the exact start date for South Pacific is determined, the theater will contact all ticket holders with the option to exchange to a new performance, keep a credit on file, donate their tickets, or get a refund. People will be able to do that by email, or by phone with staff.
Hartford Stage: The final performances of Jane Eyre were canceled as well as the upcoming production of The King’s Speech (to Sunday, April 19). No decision has been made about the final production of the season, Ah! Wilderness (Thursday, May 7 to Sunday, May 31). You can contact box office at 860-527-5151 or use an online form at hartfordstage.formstack.com/forms/cancellations.
Ivoryton Playhouse: Forbidden Broadway, which was scheduled through Friday, April 5, has been rescheduled to Wednesday, May 27 to Sunday, June 14. The Great Gatsby (Wednesday, April 22 to Sunday, May 10) and Native Gardens (Wednesday, May 27 to Sunday, June 14), have been canceled. Ivoryton hopes to include them in the 2021 season. Ticket holders and subscribers are being contacted by the theater.
Long Wharf Theater: The production of The Chinese Lady (to Sunday, April 12), is canceled. At the moment, the final production of the season, The Great Leap (Wednesday, May 6 to Sunday, May 31) is still scheduled. For more information, visit longwharf.org.
Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC): Rescheduled The Buddy Holly Story to Friday, May 15 to Sunday, May 31. Subscribers and those who had purchased tickets will be given free tickets for the corresponding performances during the new dates. Exchanges for a different date will be free.
Playhouse on the Park: The West Hartford theater canceled Diaas, its dance production, and Ugly Lies the Bone, scheduled for Wednesday, April 22. Visit playhouseonpark.org for more information.
Seven Angels Theatre: The Waterbury theater is still planning to produce The Wedding Singer scheduled from Thursday, April 23 to Sunday, May 17.
TheaterWorks: The run of Every Brilliant Thing and The Cake, which was scheduled for Sunday, April 5 to Sunday, May 1, have been cut short. TheaterWorks hopes to reschedule The Cake.
Westport Country Playhouse: An announcement about the open show, and subsequent shows, is still pending. The opening show was to be Next to Normal, Tuesday, April 14 to Saturday, May 2. They are reviewing the entire season. Ticket holders and subscribers can donate, exchange, or request refunds at westportplayhouse.org or at the box office, 203-227-4177.
Yale Rep: Canceled the remaining two shows of its season, A Raisin in the Sun, which was already in previews, and the final show of the season, Testmatch. Box office personnel will be in phone contact with subscribers and ticket holders.
The Bushnell, Shubert, Waterbury Palace, and other theaters that offer national tours and productions likely will be canceling or rescheduling as well. As we learn more, we’ll keep you informed.
Karen Isaacs is the Columnists for Zip06. Email Karen at .