Backstage: Shakespeare Theatre Company to Furlough Employees Because of Economic Woes

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Shakespeare Theatre Company will furlough its 100-plus employees, including Artistic Director Michael Kahn, this summer to help the bottom line. The furloughs will be staggered.

Although the furlough "doesn't account for a huge amount of money in our budget, it does account for something," says Stacy Shaw, the theater company's director of marketing. "The staff has just been amazing. Michael was so touched, I think, that everyone said, 'Okay.' "

"Compared to what other people are going through, [the furlough] feels fairly minor," Shaw adds.

Shaw says the current production of "King Lear" (with Stacy Keach), which runs through July 26, is expected to "exceed its goal by a tremendous amount." (The theater broke its record by selling 1,035 single tickets for the show in one day.) "Ph├Ędre," starring Helen Mirren in a production from the National Theatre of Great Britain, is coming to the Harman in September and has already sold out a dozen performances. Even so, the Shakespeare must still make trims, Shaw says.

The Shakespeare took several financial "hits," she says, since the 2007 opening of Harman Hall and the Harman Center for the Arts. Those hits included disappointing sales for the Christopher Marlowe rep that inaugurated the Harman and a fundraising gala in October that didn't meet its goal. Subscriptions for the 2008-09 season were off from the previous year by about $700,000, or 15 percent, from 2007-08.

That subscription dip was "very much on par with how subscription campaigns across the country in theaters have been going," Shaw notes.

For the coming season, Shaw says the Shakespeare has made up that loss, adding about 1,600 subscribers.

The Shakespeare will keep on "trimming back, just a little bit, here and there," Shaw says. She cites "holding our designers to their budgets," limiting seasons to six or at most seven plays, and having the summer Free for All at the Harman instead of the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, making it more accessible to the public and easier on the staff, she says. ("The Taming of the Shrew" Free for All will run Aug. 27-Sept. 12 .)

And a season note: The Shakespeare has replaced its previously announced fall show, Euripides's "The Bacchae," with Ben Jonson's "The Alchemist," to be staged by Kahn. It will run Oct. 6-Nov. 22. "The Bacchae" was to be a co-production with the Public Theater in New York, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis. The change, says Shaw, was a result of timing and actor availability, not budget.

Eisa Davis's 'Light'

Music, when woven into a nonmusical play, "goes directly to the heart and you instantly feel something," says Eisa Davis, a playwright, actress and singer-songwriter. "It draws the part of your feeling brain, as opposed to the rational one that's listening to all of the words."

In her new drama "The History of Light," Davis has laced the script with musical interludes. It will have its world premiere tonight through Aug. 2 in Shepherdstown, W.Va., at the Contemporary American Theater Festival and will be directed by Liesl Tommy.

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