Closures continue to cascade. Theaters, dance troupes, music ensembles, film groups and art galleries are revising their plans almost daily as they watch spring approach with a forecast for more economic hardship.
In Tysons, Va., 1st Stage suspended the musical “A New Brain” with the hope of resuming performances when conditions improve. Synetic Theater in Arlington canceled “Life Is A Dream” — laying off some 30 people in the process — while postponing “Teen Romeo and Juliet,” a piece its student artists have been working on for eight months. Women in Film and Video canceled almost a dozen events over the next month, although some are being shifted to virtual settings.
While their responses vary somewhat, arts leaders share a goal. This isn’t about the next show; it’s about survival.
“It’s going to be long, sad haul for everybody,” said Rebecca Medrano, executive director of GALA Hispanic Theatre, which canceled its current production — a crushing blow because it included 13 sold-out student matinees — and is discussing the fate of “Tía Julia y el Escribidor (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter),” slated to run April 23 to May 17. The future rests with the final show of the season — “Ella es Tango,” a musical review in collaboration with the Pan American Symphony Orchestra, set to open June 10.
“If we can’t do the June show, that’s going to have serious cash implications. It will mean going into reserves, and that will impact the opening of the following year,” Medrano said.
Christopher Morgan, executive artistic director at Dance Place in Washington, is concerned about the dancers and choreographers whose incomes will be decimated over the coming months. Like dominoes falling on each other, he said, each action he takes ripples through the community. Dance Place is closed at least through this month — a loss of at least $28,000 in revenue — but that’s just the start. Morgan has postponed performances scheduled for April and May, too. Rehearsal space has closed, so new work won’t be ready, and paying travel expenses for out-of-town performers seems too risky. His focus is on paying the salaries of his 23 employees, and covering most of contracts of the independent artists whose dates he’s going to try to reschedule.
“We have cash reserves for moments like this,” he said, but the hurt will continue. Not only will many individual artists suffer from cancellations, but next season — across all disciplines — performing arts organizations will be conservative, and that means the pain will continue.
He predicts some groups will close, putting further strain on an already stressed situation.
“As other institutions shutter their doors, it will increase pressure on the ones that remain,” Morgan said. “Artists, performers and choreographers look to institutions for venues and for support. That will be exacerbated in a creative economy that already lacks space.”
The cost of this seasons’s cancellations will affect the future in many ways. The Washington Stage Guild won’t produce its fourth and final production, “Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant,” but instead hopes to present it next season. The decision was made after the theater expended money for rehearsal salaries and other costs. In addition to single-ticket sales lost, the production was part of a four-show season subscription that some 300 patrons already purchased.
“If all 300 ask for refunds, that would be really terrible,” artistic director Bill Largess said. Officials are determining their next step, including asking patrons to donate the balance of the subscription or apply it to next season.
If there is a next season.
“I’m going to say I’m guardedly confident” about the future, Largess said. “Right now so much is uncertain. We don’t know what it’s going to cost us. Some of the smallest theaters — we’re a large small theater — are going to suffer greatly.”
Ticket sales typically represent less than half of a performing arts group’s revenue, which is bolstered by unearned income such as sponsorships and grants. These funds are a source of worry for Theater Alliance, a socially conscious theater company in residence at the Anacostia Playhouse. After canceling the last two weekends of “The Bitter Earth,” the company is worried about the viability of its final show, “The Blackest Battle,” scheduled to begin its run on May 16.
Commissioned and developed by the company, the play earned a coveted grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Managing director Jen Clements is looking into whether the grant can be rescinded if the work isn’t completed — information that will help her and her colleagues decide the show’s future.
The theater has two weeks to decide to move forward and risk losing money if performances can’t start as expected, or pull the plug preemptively.
“That would leave us dark for a long stretch of the year,” Clements said. “One of the core tenets of Theater Alliance is service to our community.”
One sector of the District’s cultural economy that might not be harmed is the city’s art galleries, where visitors typically do not exceed virus guidelines advising crowds of 10 or fewer. Margery Goldberg of Zenith Gallery said she remains open, although she will probably cancel opening and closing receptions.
“Anybody who requires an audience is pretty much screwed,” Goldberg said, adding that visual artists can carry on, at least for the short term. “Every artist doesn’t sell art every day. But they make it every day.”