STRAIGHT TALK WITH LAKE DILLON THEATRE COMPANY, BOULDER ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY AND NORTHGLENN ARTS
Welcome back to "Straight Talk," our ongoing series with artistic leaders from the local theatre community about the unique challenges they face during this unprecedented time.
By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Like others, the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, located 70 miles west of Denver in Silverthorne, is juggling many possible return scenarios. But things got complicated this week when the professional actors’ union laid down four conditions for its members to return to work at theatres including the Arvada Center. And Producing Artistic Director Christopher Alleman said they could have dire consequences.
“The four barriers the union said theatres must cross may put the final nail in the coffin of many small professional theaters that use Actors’ Equity Association contracts – or force theaters to reconsider any union status they currently work under,” Alleman said.
Since the shutdown on March 13, which was to have been Opening Night of “The Roommate,” Lake Dillon has been holding steady. “We are fortunate to have a healthy reserve that is keeping everyone on staff employed through the shutdown,” said Alleman, who paid out the full contracts for all cast and crew on that show. Since then, the company has lost “What We Leave Behind,” “Man of La Mancha” and “Popcorn Falls.”
“We basically told our staff that all of our job descriptions are going to change during this time - but we get to stay employed,” Alleman said.
After the shutdown, Alleman quickly pivoted from producing live theatre “to focusing on robust digital and virtual programming that remains true to our mission,” he said. “We have just wrapped eight programs, including a virtual mini-concert series, educational classes and more, and we have just released the schedule for nine more digital and virtual programs for the next six weeks. It has to be about keeping our patrons, community and stakeholders engaged so the institution can survive."
All of the company’s virtual content is free, by the way.
“Fortunately, our company has a history of making theatre financially work with audiences of 50 or fewer," Alleman said. "Our previous home only sat 60 – on a good day. We know how to do it, and we can sustain that again in the short term."
Alleman’s best-case scenario would be to re-open with “The Roommate” in August or September, along with a few additional “one-night only” cabaret concerts. His second-best scenario would be re-opening for holiday programming with “Application Pending” (a comedy about kindergarten admissions) and a small-cast version of “Holiday Follies.”
In the meantime, the company will move forward with in-person, outdoor summer youth workshops. “They will look different from the past, but this is an important program for our community – and parents need it as much as the students,” said Alleman, who added that a 25-point procedure for managing the health and safety of all students will be followed.
“All in all, we are hanging in there and feel very fortunate that we can continue to make art – albeit very differently," said Alleman, who was recently elected to the Summit County Board of Education. "Our staff has been nimble, motivated and in great spirits. We have a supportive board and a community that can’t wait to see live theatre again.”
'Every company has a date in mind after which it becomes fiscally impossible to continue operations.' – Stephen Weitz
The major hit to the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (colloquially known as “Betsy”) has been to its planned regional-premiere staging of “Oslo,” J.T. Rogers’ recounting of the pivotal 1990s Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
"We are working on the assumption that theatres aren't going to be able to return to business as usual for the foreseeable future,” said Producing Artistic Director Stephen Weitz. “In fact, I think it's unlikely we will be able to hold live performances in enclosed spaces before sometime in 2021.”
Weitz’s home base in Boulder is the Dairy Arts Center, which compounds the complexity of BETC’s return because the Dairy is owned by the city, and it will have its own set of rules and regulations regarding public gatherings.
“Although we continue to create multiple contingency plans, our primary focus is on pivoting to other performance forms that can meet the current needs of the BETC family,” said Weitz, whose artistic credo for more than a decade has been, “Wonderful Stories. Wonderfully Told.”
Soon after the shutdown, BETC debuted its “Ghost Light” video series, which has included short play readings and humorous glimpses into the home lives of couples in quarantine.
“Innovation is going to be key to survival for small and midsize organizations, so we're looking to work with community partners that have a shared interest in telling important and thought-provoking stories,” Weitz said. “We're developing new education and outreach programs that can be offered under the current public-health conditions while deepening our commitment to new-play development.
“Financially, this is a very daunting time for BETC,” he added. But, ironically, “there has never been a better time not to own your own theatre.” BETC's biggest expenses during the shutdown are salaries and rent on its Westminster rehearsal space.
“Our first priority is continuing to keep our BETC staff employed and hiring as many local artists as possible," Weitz said. "The budget forecast for the near-term is stable, though obviously that will become more and more of an existential threat the longer we are kept away from our primary revenue source of live performances.”
Whether they want to admit it or not, Weitz said, every company has a date in mind after which it becomes fiscally impossible to continue operations.
“However, we will not be rushing back anytime soon. It is our responsibility to keep the safety of our patrons, our artists and our community at the forefront of our minds as we entertain any plans for the future."
'The new Parsons Theatre has, has for obvious reasons, become a beacon of hope. – Michael Stricker.
Northglenn Arts is in a stable financial position – albeit one that will significantly contract over the next year. On the “extreme positive bright side,” says Michael Stricker, Cultural Programs Supervisor for the City of Northglenn, the town's new $53 million recreation and senior center, which will include a new Parsons Theatre, remains on schedule for a late-summer 2021 opening at 120th Avenue and I-25. (Photo by Nate Haasis at top of page.)
“That has, for obvious reasons, become a beacon of hope,” said Stricker, co-founder of the late and often lamented Paragon Theatre. The new 340-seat theatre will include state-of-art sound, lighting and projection; as well as expanded support spaces. “Even with the worst economic projections, the project is relatively secure,” he said.
Northglenn Arts programs are funded by both the City of Northglenn and Northglenn Arts and Humanities Foundation. All public art projects were previously funded and are moving forward.
With regard to theatre programming, “We remain nimble,” said Stricker, whose present facility is home to many youth and community productions that all have been canceled or will be presented with alternative formats such as live-streaming, recorded video and drive-in experiences.
“Virtual programming has greatly increased, particularly with regard to youth classes, camps and workshops,” Stricker said. “Outdoor programming including concerts and movies are slated to go the drive-in route later in the summer, pending City Council approval.”
The five salaried Northglenn Arts staff have been re-assigned to help other city divisions including parks and senior services, while still working on core arts programs.
“The greatest loss during this time is not having the ability to rent the space to the many small organizations and schools that utilize the Parsons Theatre,” Stricker said.
“From a budget standpoint, 2021 is going to be the bigger challenge, with less funds coming in from SCFD and Colorado Creative Industries (the state’s arts office). We'll continue to be creative in how we budget and still provide the services we have for 40 years.”
Monday: Straight Talk with artistic leaders from more Colorado theatre companies
Contact John Moore at email@example.com
MORE STRAIGHT TALK
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• Straight Talk with Rod Lansberry, Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays. READ IT HERE
• Straight Talk with Lynne Collins, Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays. READ IT HERE
• Straight Talk with Philip C. Sneed, Arvada Center President and CEO. READ IT HERE
• Survey: Most theatregoers aren't coming back anytime soon. READ IT HERE
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