Paul R. Tetreault, Ford’s director, did not expect it to come to this. Ford’s Theatre, the scene of President Lincoln’s assassination, is a national historic site under the purview of the National Park Service. Ford’s Theatre Society is different: It’s the nonprofit group that has been producing and presenting shows on the historic stage since the building reopened in 1968 after decades of neglect.
That difference — and the fact that the theater kept operating during the 1995 shutdown — is why Tetreault expected it to stay open during the current congressional gridlock.
“They said that should work,” says Tetreault, sitting in a room upstairs in the church less than an hour before Friday’s performance. “There are no federal employees, no federal expenses. . . . We are just a pawn caught in the game. And we have to figure out what we do next.”
Tetreault is anxious about those next steps. Until “Laramie” can get back onto the stage at Ford’s, it’s costing his troupe $100,000 a week.
Acts of Congress
Tetreault won’t put a figure on what the “Laramie” production cost, but it’s essentially already paid for — designed, built and rehearsed. What’s missing is the income stream. The company projected $400,000 in ticket sales for the run, which is scheduled through Oct. 27. Ford’s can’t recoup through insurance, because unlike acts of God, acts of Congress aren’t covered.
Ford’s officials thought they would be able to use their 655-seat theater throughout the hopefully brief shutdown. Only Tuesday morning did Tetreault learn that the company would have to bug out.
Tuesday night was supposed to be the media opening for the critically acclaimed show, a docudrama about the beating death of a young gay man in Laramie, Wyo., 15 years ago. “Laramie” is a popular title that somehow is only now getting its professional premiere in the District. The cast features top-flight Washington actors — Holly Twyford, Mitchell Hebert and others. Scrambling, the company members hustled themselves — actors and technicians, but not the show’s large set — and a mere 80 members of their audience to the rehearsal hall at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
That was a one-night-only Band-Aid. Performances were canceled Wednesday and Thursday. Peformances for the entire week have been rescheduled or tickets refunded. There won’t be another performance until Tuesday, again inside this church. After that, who knows?
“Until I get a sign that that $400,000 is never going to materialize — that the federal government is never going to open — then I might have to start dealing with the expenses,” Tetreault says. “But I don’t believe that’s the case yet.”