How much does it cost to override a government shutdown? For Ford’s Theatre, $25,000. That’s the amount of emergency funding that trustee Ronald Perelman donated to the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site so it could reopen Wednesday. The site has been closed since Oct. 1.
As other states have green-lighted funding for national parks to reopen in certain jurisdictions, Paul R. Tetreault, director of the Ford’s Theatre Society, spoke over the weekend with the National Park Service to determine whether Ford’s could sidestep the shutdown, as well. The society agreed to sponsor the park operations that NPS typically pays for in four-day increments; the $25,000 will last for eight days.
“Once I heard that the Grand Canyon was going to open and they were opening Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty, I started thinking, ‘Wait a minute. If we’re opening national parks, that’s what we are,’ ” said Tetreault.
Ford’s reached out to Perelman, “a great friend of Ford’s [and] a founding sponsor of the Lincoln Legacy Project,” Tetreault said, because “he’s someone who could operate quickly on something like this and someone who had the vision to understand the value of something like this.”
Performances of “The Laramie Project,” which runs through Oct. 27, will begin again at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets for the rest of the run will be $25. The site will be open for daytime visits starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The run of “Laramie” was scheduled to coincide with the 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. “There’s sort of a poignancy to that, a milestone,” said Tetreault. “The thought that we would not be performing, after all this planning, was sort of tragic for me. So that poignancy has been, I think, not lost on anyone on staff. This is an important work . . . whose anniversary we’re marking, and I think it’s important for us to get that work seen.”
Ford’s held a vigil for Shepard on Friday night at First Congregational United Church of Christ. “Dennis Shepard [Matthew’s father] was actually with us on Friday night at the vigil,” said Tetreault.
“I’ve said throughout this whole thing — and I say this with all due respect to friends and colleagues at the Smithsonian and National Gallery, they basically put up signs that said, ‘We’re closed’ . . . we’re not willing to do that.” Tetreault said he believes that the way Ford’s has tried to accommodate patrons with free performances and discounted tickets for this two-week run has helped the theater “gain a lot of goodwill from the public.”
The closure of Ford’s, said Tetreault, had a ripple effect for all the businesses surrounding the theater. “The restaurants on the street are hurting, the gift shops are hurting. Everyone is feeling this crunch. The French bistro across the street said to me the other day that their business has been cut in half.”
Tetreault said that Ford’s had budgeted to make $100,000 in ticket sales per week for “Laramie.” With two weeks of performances off-site, that means Ford’s is kicking off this fiscal year $200,000 in the hole. Not quite hit-the-panic-button losses for a $13 million-plus organization, but not exactly cause for celebration, either.
In other theaterland shutdown news, Adventure Theatre MTC, on national park land in Glen Echo Park since 1971, has canceled 16 performances of “Goodnight Moon” so far, artistic director Michael Bobbitt said. Bobbitt reports that ATMTC has lost $50,000, an average of $3,000 per performance. Tickets to ATMTC shows typically cost $14, “so making up the difference is next to impossible,” Bobbitt said. ATMTC’s annual gala, originally scheduled for Thursday, is now scheduled for Nov. 7 at an off-site location.
The plan of action: Occupy the park this Friday.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett “is aware that we’re doing something that may be civilly disobedient,” Bobbitt said.
Glen Echo Park is home to a number of arts organizations and also programs “things like weddings, parties and gatherings, so all of those have been canceled and moved and postponed,” Bobbitt said. “The park, collectively, has lost $325,000.”
What could go wrong? “I guess all of us artists could be hauled off to jail,” Bobbitt said. “That is the worst-case scenario.”
Bobbitt is still figuring out what programming will resume at ATMTC on Friday. The actors and crew will need to re-rehearse, he pointed out, and “the actors and crew are, for lack of a better term, furloughed as well” and haven’t been paid while the theater has been dark. Patrons who come to any performances during the shutdown “could potentially be hauled off,” too, Bobbitt said.
“We’ve been around for 62 years, and we’ve never suffered this kind of loss,” Bobbitt said. “This could be the demise of this organization.”