STRAIGHT TALK WITH SQUARE PRODUCT, FORGE LIGHT, SPRINGS ENSEMBLE THEATRE AND COAL CREEK THEATER OF LOUISVILLE
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
The intentionally lower-cased square product theatre has for more than a decade engaged in what founder Emily K. Harrison calls “radical acts of inquiry that leave an audience with just as many questions as answers.”
Harrison, who was gearing up for a big return after teaching abroad and at Whitman College in Washington, has canceled or postponed all announced 2020 programming, including the regional premiere of Clare Barron's “Dance Nation.” That’s the raucous tale of ambitious pre-teen competitive dancers who will do anything to claw their way to the top of the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay.
“We originally planned to do ‘Dance Nation’ last summer, but the death of my father and my cat necessitated that we postpone the show, so we were really excited to finally be able to work on this play,” Harrison said. “We sincerely hope that we are able to produce the play at some point in 2021, but because it has a large cast and there's no way to present it in a socially distanced fashion and truly do it justice, we will just have to wait and see.”
Meanwhile, “We are considering what we might be able to accomplish virtually, by either producing a radio play or developing a work that could be presented on a platform like Zoom. But because most of us work in education and have been dragging our butts through the end of the saddest academic year of our careers, we haven't had a chance to really dive into any significant conversation about that yet.
“As far as our finances are concerned, they aren't great, but we're also not in a situation where we have any overhead to speak of. We don't have our own space, so we don't have rent to pay or utilities to cover. In that respect, I consider us lucky.
“That said, I have serious concerns about performing-arts funding in the future. I fear that audiences will be reluctant to return to theatres, and for those of us making less-traditional work, attracting audiences is tough to begin with.
'The thought of organizations large and small vying for any and all scraps we can get makes me nauseous.' – Emily K. Harrison
“We aren’t eligible for funding through SCFD or Colorado Creative Industries, and competition for donors and funders already is fierce in this region – and the pandemic will likely make that even more so. People will have less expendable income and will be understandably less able to donate. So organizations large and small will be vying for any and all scraps we can get. The thought of that makes me nauseous. Like: It just makes me want to walk away. I just don't want to fight over resources with my colleagues. I don't want the success of square product to be at the expense of another artist or arts organization. That would not be for the good of our community. So I sincerely hope that we can come together and figure that bit out.
“A lot of people are in the same boat. It's scary. Our systems are in need of significant, fundamental change.”
Pictured: Alexis Cooley and Emily K. Harrison in the JonBenét Ramsey tale 'House of Gold.'
Springs Ensemble Theatre is known for producing big, collaborative theatre in an intimate space in Colorado Springs 70 miles south of Denver. Over the past 10 years, SET has staged almost 50 thought-provoking productions. And the all-volunteer company’s first response to the COVID-19 shutdown was to establish a food pantry for any artist in Colorado Springs who is experiencing food insecurity.
“Individual members have made and donated hundreds of masks,” said President Matt Radcliffe. “We have also set aside some limited financial help for individual company members who have lost work because of the pandemic.”
SET had just completed its staging of “Strangers on a Train” when the shutdown hit. “That show was a smashing success,” Radcliffe said. Its next planned show, “White,” a modern-day “Frankenstein” story by James Ijames, was supposed to open May 7 but now has been pushed back to September, when it will be presented virtually, in-person, or as some combination of both. July’s production of “The Nether” has been indefinitely postponed. And a planned original holiday play called “Santa Inc.,” written by SET member Jenny Maloney, will be replaced by “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as a necessary boost to the company’s end-of-the-year fundraising efforts.
“These moves, while heartbreaking, are necessary for the safety and well-being of everyone involved in these productions,” Radcliffe said. “It also allows the time our artists need to create the best work they can for our audiences. We will announce 2021 plans when we know more about what we’d like to do.”
Financially, SET is in a good place to weather the pandemic, Radcliffe said. “While we will burn through some reserves, we are confident we will remain solvent through the crisis. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we will be able to pay our bills and keep our theatre ready to go for when we are allowed to re-open.”
In February, Keith Rabin-Hoover announced the resurrection, in spirit, of the late Ignite Theatre as Forge Light Theatreworks, a new company in Aurora dedicated to producing unexplored American musicals that have never been performed on Broadway.
The next month: COVID-19.
“As a new company that had just announced our existence before all of this mess, we are in a weird place,” Rabin-Hoover said. “Still, I think we are in a better place than many. We were lucky to have about $20,000 in the bank when we closed the curtain on Ignite. After the initial expenses of re-starting, we have about $10,000 in reserve now. ”
The company’s inaugural production of “Bare,” which was to open in June, has been moved to January. "In the next few days, I will be making a full announcement about the postponement of our entire inaugural season to 2021," said Rabin-Hoover, which likely means moving “The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes” to next summer.
“We are all personally committed to bringing back safety-conscious, live, butts-in-seats theatre to this community as soon as it is responsible and safe enough to do so," said Rabin-Hoover. In the meantime, "Our goal is to provide as many additional paid opportunities for artists and technicians as we can next year, as well as supporting The Denver Actors Fund. So we are considering an additional production for our newly placed Inaugural season.
"We are being ambitious because we know we will come out strong on the other side of this, and we want to be at the forefront of helping re-forge and re-enforce this incredible and resilient group of friends, creators and creative spaces."
While this “Straight Talk” series was conceived to give readers the opportunity to donate to any affected company, “We do not feel like now is the time to be asking for donations,” Rabin-Hoover said. “We have few investments and not much to lose at this point.
"We hope we can start things up again and open ‘Bare’ in January. In the meantime, we are waiting patiently – kind of – until our time in the light comes again.”
'It may sound trite, but this is the time for unity.' – Don Schock
Coal Creak Theater of Louisville has operated as a vital community theatre for Boulder County and beyond since 1990. It has recently joined the chorus and moved the remainder of its 2020 programming at the Louisville Center for the Arts to next year: “First Date,” the company’s annual “Evening of Colorado-Grown One Acts” and “Dracula.”
“But we are examining the possibility of producing a show this fall,” said Board President Dan Schock. “This would be in accordance with all safety protocols, including a choice of title that allows for social distancing of the actors – and may be live-streamed. We also are considering looking to playwrights for their pandemic play scripts, including new works.”
Schock is forming a community task force that will focus on best practices for bringing performances back, how to actively engage with local government and building outreach programs with fellow Colorado community theatres.
“It may sound trite, but this is the time for unity,” he said. "Whether it is support by communication and information or by available resources, we should be helping each other get back onto our collective feet.” To join the effort, email Schock at CCTLhelp@gmail.com.
Tomorrow: Straight Talk with artistic leaders from four more Colorado theatre companies
Contact John Moore at email@example.com
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