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Playhouse Square Faces Pandemic Challenges Head On; BWY IN CLE Expected To Return Fall 2021 

Playhouse Square's KeyBank Broadway Series is expected to return in Fall 2021. 

Playhouse Square's KeyBank Broadway Series is expected to return in Fall 2021.

"Based on what we know today about the state of the virus, the hopeful news regarding a vaccine and the status of the touring industry, we anticipate that Broadway will return to our stages in the fall of 2021.It will take time for tours to get back up and running when mass gatherings become safe again," explained Playhouse Square President & CEO Gina Vernaci. "They will have to rehearse for a period of time. Routes and logistics have to be planned out all over the country. It will not happen overnight."

"What has been so encouraging to us is that despite the uncertainty of 2020, 34,000 KeyBank Broadway Series season ticket holders are committed and eager for Broadway in CLE to return to our stages," shared Vernaci. "We know this means an even longer wait, but we also know that the Broadway experience at Playhouse Square is worth it. And this is the best way to ensure the safety of our guests."

Vernaci added, "As a not-for-profit organization, it is stressful to have our main source of revenue on pause for an extended period of time, but the health and safety of our audiences, performers and staff remains our priority. We were fortunate to be in a position of strength when the pandemic struck, thanks to the foresight of our founding board members who developed a business model combining the arts and real estate, but we will need philanthropic support from our community to sustain our mission-based work, particularly our educational programming, over the coming months."

Playhouse Square is continuing ongoing communications with stakeholders, reassuring them that their expectations for experiencing touring Broadway in Cleveland will be met.

Without the one million guests that visit each year, Playhouse Square knows area businesses will be affected, and the organization's leaders have been meeting regularly with restauranteurs and other service providers. "We see ourselves as stewards of our neighborhood, and that means doing what we can to ensure the Playhouse Square District emerges from the pandemic as even more inviting and exciting than it was before," said Vernaci. "The opening of The Lumen, our largest area development project to date, boldly moves us forward."

While Playhouse Square is perhaps best known for the bright lights of Broadway, those who live and work downtown also know it as the place bright yellow school buses frequently line the streets. A cornerstone of the organization's not-for-profit mission is arts education and introducing young audiences to live theater, most often through matinees that attract 40,000 students each year.

"Our Community Engagement and Education team has been at the forefront of creating a national model for keeping educators and students connected to the performing arts during this challenging year," stated Vernaci.

All Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools are receiving free access to nine streaming performances accompanied by teacher guides and additional video resources. The performances and resources are available to any Northeast Ohio classroom for the nominal fee of $20 per show.

After hearing from parents that children with sensory needs particularly are struggling during this time when things are so different from the norm, Playhouse Square partnered with the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities to create and release a series of video resources to help with stress reduction, emotional awareness and other topics. The video series, which can be accessed at playhousesquare.org/sensoryresources, was launched with a special streaming concert by Dan & Claudia Zanes earlier this month.

The organization also continues to deliver its Dazzle Awards high school musical theater program and Disney Musicals in Schools program for underserved elementary schools in newly imagined ways.

When the ban on mass gatherings in Ohio was enacted on March 13, the run of Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring a live theatrical surround-sound experience that would occur only in Cleveland, had just opened at Playhouse Square. "Not knowing how long the shutdown might continue, we debated whether or not to leave the set on stage. We decided it would best for the show to pack everything up, and it turns out that was the right call," explained Vernaci.

Since then, Playhouse Square has canceled or postponed 680 performances. Its resident companies - Cleveland Ballet, Cleveland International Film Festival, Cleveland Play House, Cleveland State University Department of Theatre and Dance, Great Lakes Theater, DANCECleveland and Tri-C JazzFest - have either shifted to virtual programming for the 2020-21 season or are examining other ways to serve their audiences.

Playhouse Square is offering some virtual programming as well, but is eager to see live performances and live audiences back in its theaters.

Like many organizations, Playhouse Square enacted workforce and salary reduction measures at the end of May to help control expenses.

"I am incredibly proud of how our remaining staff members have risen to this occasion," concluded Vernaci. "They have served more than 60,000 households with tickets to canceled or postponed performances; and are staying connected to our season ticket holders, donors and RedCoats; taking care of our historic theaters; keeping our hotel and real estate services going; and finding creative new ways to fulfill our mission. This is the Playhouse Square way; we face challenges head on and keep going. Playhouse Square is embedded in the memories of many people, and we look forward to the time we can start making memories together again."


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