Regional Spotlight: How Florida Studio Theatre is Working Through the Global Health Crisis
Now more than ever it is important to support theater and do our part to keep the art form that we love so much alive and as thriving as it can be during these unprecedented times. While the global health crisis has temporarily put the theater world on hold, pausing all live performances and large gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19, theaters around the country have taken a hit. During this time of adjusting to our temporary new normal, theaters are figuring out how to take care of their team, and discovering the best ways to virtually bring theater to audiences.
Through our regional theater interview series, we are checking in with theaters all around the country, talking to them about how they are handling these difficult circumstances, learning what they are doing to move forward, and discovering the best way for people to help regional theaters during this time.
Today we're checking in with Florida Studio Theatre! We chatted with Rebecca Hopkins, FST's Managing Director.
First of all, I want to check in on the health and wellbeing of everyone at FST. How is everyone doing during this difficult time?
We are doing well. This has been a very difficult time our entire staff, as it has been for everyone. We are resilient. Our team comes together when times are tough. I've been amazed at the level of inter-support the company is offering to each other. Every day I see someone who is struggling with unknowns and anxiety, and every day I see another member of the company step up and help the person deal with everything. It is really that company support that gets you through it.
What do the days look like right now for those who work at FST?
Very active. It took us a couple of weeks to get on track, but we are now very focused. Focused on the future. We were fortunate to get funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We put it to good use. We brought back the 30 core staff members who had been furloughed and hired artists to fill the artist positions. We have 30 playwrights working full time now on plays for our Mainstage, Cabaret, Children's Theatre and Sketch Comedy programs. All of that work is being managed by our resident artistic staff. There is an incredible amount of dramaturgical support needed. We are focusing on creating work for when we can come back together.
We are engaging online with educational workshops for children, youth, and adults, as well as audience engagement forums and behind the scenes programming with artists. Then there is all the work for planning the different scenarios of when we do come back. I've made the joke many times, "I've never worked so hard to produce nothing." The days are moving very fast. It's just all for the future. It is frustrating to not be producing shows, because that is how we serve our audiences.
How much planning is going on both short term and long term for the theater?
A tremendous amount of planning. This is where the most stress is. You are planning for the unknown. So you have plan A, B, C, D, E, and now F. The targets keep moving. Realistically, we do not expect to get back to full operation before a vaccine or effective treatment has been created. That could be another 18 months or 2 years. That's our worse case scenario.
We do look at if we can open earlier and when. Then there is all the bridge programming we are looking at - How do you and what do you program for 25% capacity? What kind of meaningful work can you bring to the community? Should we be doing this work? Is it impactful? Over the next several months we are planning to try to do special event type work, like One-offs and short runs with low capacity. We are also looking at touring children's work to outdoor spaces. We are looking at 1- and 2-person plays and musicals that can be done safely for both the audience and the artists. I think you are going to see a lot of creativity out there because people do want to come. We will open our minds to all kinds of new opportunities during this time that hopefully will make our work better in the long run.
Do you have plans to bring any previously filmed productions/upcoming events/classes etc. online?
We are currently offering classes online for children, youth, and adults. We tested it first with a group of invited students to make sure we were keeping the quality of the classes in the new environment. Now our teachers have reworked all their curriculums for the virtual environment. The response has been fantastic. We are starting to hold conversations with playwrights online for small, invited audiences starting the week of May 11. The response to offerings have been really wonderful.
What is the best way for people to help FST right now?
Keep their subscriptions. Over 85% of our audience has renewed for next Winter Season. That is fantastic! It is awe-inspiring and speaks to how important the work we do is to this community. We are valued and it keeps me going every day. Renewing your subscription says to us that you are going to be there when we come back. The audience is the thing we can't afford lose. They are the reason we are here. Additional gifts are also greatly needed. We are trying to maintain our core staff of production, artists, and administrators. The longer we are down, the more we will be forced to lay people off. This process has already been the most devastating. These are people who are committed to the work they are doing in this community.