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BWW Feature: THIS IS JUST INTERMISSION...Small theaters discuss current status and future plans.


BWW Feature: THIS IS JUST INTERMISSION...Small theaters discuss current status and future plans.

As we all know, COVID-19 isn't a simple little virus with a predictable course. The never before conceived operational blueprints theaters are attempting to design to collaborate through a pandemic have begun to crack the foundations of even the most storied of houses. Headlines include:

Globe Theatre at risk of closing;
Broadway remains dark until September;
Coronavirus brings wave of extraordinary financial stress to theaters;
National tours of CATS announces closure.

The vastly diverse kinsfolk that once laughed, cried, danced, and sang together within those houses are finding themselves struggling to discern between an inherit need for shared experiences and one's own health and safety.

I could continue with my Ten Questions series IF COVID-19 had any predictability. But, it doesn't, and that makes answering questions about future plans almost impossible. The quote, "Man plans and God laughs." could be adapted to "Theaters plan and COVID-19 laughs." However, if ever there was an industry that could turn hitting a brick wall into an amazingly entertaining slapstick folly of somersaults and backflips, ending upright holding a floral bouquet while belting Everything's Coming Up Roses, it's theater folx.

My motto is "Live theater, sh*t happens." I like to share it with all those involved in theater. I especially enjoy seeing the nodding heads and smiling faces from audience members when I share the sentiment. Theater doesn't need to learn how to "pivot," "reinvent," or "adapt," because the very nature of live theater forces that to happen on an everyday basis. Those running theater companies, those producing theater, and those creating theater live a life full of daily "what ifs." What if an artist gets sick and can't rehearse/perform? What if no one attends the show? What if we started selling signature cocktails? What if we lowered ticket prices? What if that character wore a red blouse? What if the line was delivered differently? What if the show doesn't at least break even? For theaters, it's not about change, it's about support.

In Delaware, live theater is permitted to resume on June 1st under strict guidelines. Of course, audience members must wear masks. Yes, the venue must sanitize/disinfect everything before, during & after use. No, you cannot wait in the lobby before the show while sipping your wine. Yes, you can sit next to each other BUT only if you've been in quarantine together. No, you cannot sit closer than 6 feet behind your friends. Sorry, tickets are only sold online due to limited seating. Wait, what?? Limited seating??

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome with the Phase 1 reopening guidelines is capacity limits. Delaware theaters are only allowed to sell tickets equal to 30% of the seating capacity while meeting the social distancing requirements of a 6 ft. radius between non-related/same household audience members. Can it be done? Yes, because theaters know how to make the best of any situation. Can it be successful? Yes, but...

The chances of a Phase 1 reopening being successful for large venues relying on contracted or touring Artists with large production overhead are slim. However, small local theaters with non-Equity Artists and many community theater companies might be able to pull off live theater so long as production budgets are super tight and no-frills, and so long as there are only one, two or three performers on stage complying with social distancing; and so long as backstage areas can be properly managed, and so long as theater-goers buy tickets, and so long as...well, you get the picture. The future of local theater is dependent upon many, many factors, some uncontrollable. What theater producers, artists, and patrons can control is the willingness to support each other.

I recently participated in an online meeting with Executive Directors, Artistic Directors, and Board Presidents of theater companies located in New Castle County. Theaters gave a bit of information as to what they were doing at the time of shutdown and what was lost in ways of offerings and money. Wilmington Drama League snuck opening night of Falsettos under the wire the night before the shutdown Order. Delaware Children's Theatre, Chapel Street Players, Reedy Point Players were in rehearsals for their next productions, which have now been either cancelled or postponed. Fearless Improv (City Theater Company) halted work on its Tax Free Comedy Festival. For those theaters with venue rentals (WDL & Bootless Stageworks), lost income increases. For theaters offering summer camp (DCT & WDL), another income stream falls away. Kathy Buterbaugh estimated losses at WDL of around $40,000. The meeting wasn't all gloom & doom.

Rather, this collective of creatives spoke about keeping theater alive virtually, shared ideas for collaboration, and most importantly, talked about future plans. When COVID-19 turns theater operations upside-down, theaters pivot, reinvent and adapt. Many theaters shifted the remainder of the 2019-20 season to 2021 while modifying planned offerings for the 2021-22 season. WDL plans to move its Youth One Act Festival and summer camp outside. Bootless plans to reopen under guidelines in July with one and two-person shows. DCT continues to receive registration for camp in August. Fearless Improv engages audiences online with weekly content and looks to provide daytime programming during the summer. In short order, the participants created a new Facebook group for local theater set/prop/costume borrowing, audition/production information sharing, etc. (Invitations to join and link to be shared publicly shortly.) Discussions on how to keep audiences and artists safe, drafting a survey for audiences and artists on willingness to return, fundraising efforts, grant compliance, legal issues, and insurance coverage. There was so much to discuss!

Although the theaters may differ in structure, offerings, audience demographics, budgets, and such, all agreed to continue meeting, not only to discuss and share, but to actively support each other. Why? Because we are all part of one theater family and we're #allinthistogether. I'll keep you posted as the group's activities progress.

A personal message: Please support theater either with your in-person attendance or by watching virtual events. And, when a Theater Artist brightens your day, makes you think, or moves you emotionally, make sure to let them know. After all, performers really aren't doing it for themselves, but rather to share an experience with you. Thank you!

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