STRAIGHT TALK WITH THE DENVER CENTER, JESTERS DINNER THEATRE, GLENWOOD VAUDEVILLE REVUE AND GERMINAL STAGE-DENVER
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 economic damage the coronavirus is doing to the leading regional performing-arts center between Chicago and Los Angeles is, if not incalculable, then very nearly incomprehensible.
The DCPA presents visiting Broadway tours, while also producing its own homegrown programming under four different divisions: The Tony Award-winning DCPA Theatre Company, its hipster Off-Center wing, cabaret musicals at the Garner Galleria Theatre, and Theatre for Young Audiences. Consider that the DCPA welcomes about 1 million people a year, including more than 100,000 students of all ages through its Education classes.
The coronavirus has brought it all to a standstill.
The DCPA reported a $193 million economic impact in 2018 through ticket sales alone, so the ripple effect from the shutdown is going to be more like a tsunami.
The DCPA has officially canceled or postponed 25 shows and two major fundraisers to date, resulting in tens of millions of dollars of lost revenue. On May 28, the word came down that the entire 2020-21 Theatre Company season is canceled.
"Recently, the DCPA announced it would delay and reduce the Theatre Company lineup," said Director of Communications Suzanne Yoe. "However, after further evaluation and extensive scenario planning, it was determined that the most responsible decision was to protect the DCPA’s resources now in order to return for a robust and resilient 2021-22 season. The DCPA’s Board of Trustees will revisit this decision in October and, if circumstances allow, make every effort to return to the stage this coming spring."
Artistic Director Chris Coleman (pictured) had been quoted this week in The New York Times saying bluntly: “We won’t have programming this fall. Part of it is the uncertainty of when it’s going to be safe to gather, and part of it is economic — we’ve thought about social distancing, but it makes zero economic sense.”
Today, he elaborated in an email to company members, calling the decision excruciating but necessary:
"Ticket sales only account for 36 percent of what it takes to produce our Theatre Company season, which requires months of advance work and upfront costs that are only partially recouped once performances take place. Unlike Broadway shows that arrive ready to assemble, our productions utilize local artists to create the incredible productions to which you’ve become accustomed. Plus, we endeavor to keep our ticket costs as low as possible so that we can be more accessible to everyone in our community.
With no indication of when theatres will reopen, we reviewed many scenarios for our season, all of which include tremendous financial risk. Ultimately, we have chosen to protect our resources now so that we can come back, resilient, in our 2021-22 season."
In one fell swoop, the DCPA has gone from what promised to be surely the most commercially successful year in its 41-year history, to its absolute worst. The lineup of lost shows is mind-boggling, led by what certainly would have been 10 sold-out weeks of “Hamilton,” as well as sure-fire hits “Mean Girls,” “The Lion King,” “The Book of Mormon, “My Fair Lady” and the 2018 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, “The Band’s Visit.” With more to (not) come.
John Ekeberg, the DCPA's Executive Director of Broadway, said in the email announcing the “Hamilton” postponement: “The challenges and uncertainties around this health crisis have had an enormous impact on all of our communities, and the theatrical community has been uniquely challenged. … It is our sole focus to plan for that day in the future when we welcome you back to the theatre in a manner that is healthy and safe.”
Meanwhile, Off-Center had no choice but to delay its developing David Byrne immersive project “Theater of the Mind,” which was to have opened in August. The Galleria has lost four shows so far, including a puppet parody of “The Golden Girls” and another (without puppets) of “The Crown," as well as a planned return engagement of “Dixie’s Never Wear a Tube Top..." And the Theatre for Young Audiences program that just treated 40,000 to “Goodnight Moon” is taking the fall off.
The DCPA already has three two rounds of layoffs, furloughs and prematurely terminated contracts, and on May 27, a significant percentage of the full-time staff were put on furlough until at least next March. “It’s tough right now,” Yoe said.
As a not-for-profit arts organization, she added, “these devastating losses have a tremendous and lasting financial impact on our organization, staff and artists. We are turning to you for help. We need your support in order to re-open our doors. Gifts of any size are appreciated.”
Jesters, one of Colorado's final five remaining dinner theatres, is housed in Longmont, 35 miles northwest of Denver. In addition to family friendly musicals such as the now shuttered “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” Jesters offers classes and is home to The Front deRanged Improv Comedy Troupe.
“This is certainly a challenging time, but in some respects, it's been a blessing,” said owner Scott Moore. “We have been able to do some things around the theatre that we frankly wouldn't have gotten to otherwise. My wife, Mary Lou, has organized the costume shop, mended a huge pile of costumes and thrown out items that just aren't needed. And I've painted almost the entire interior of the building. We have new carpet coming in at the end of the month, and we're putting new tile in the bar.”
Like others, Moore will take his cue for re-opening from local authorities – which means not only government officials but his cast, crew and customers. “It's really just my wife and me who rely on the theatre income to survive,” he said. “We're fortunate that we don't have people relying on us for their livelihoods. If that were the case, we'd certainly be feeling the pressure to get back to business more quickly.
“Our main concern is simply not knowing when we'll be allowed to re-open and how many of our creditors will continue to defer payments. Much of the economy will be back in business before theatres will, so I think creditors may lump us in with other types of businesses and make us start paying again even though we're still closed."
Another concern is that, while Moore thinks he can easily socially distance his audience members, that's not so easy with actors and crew. "Seven Brides," for example, had 21 cast members. “I don't see a viable way to do that,” he said.
For 10 years, the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue dinner theatre has presented family friendly musical revues – comedy skits, groan-worthy jokes and fun dance numbers – for the residents of the Roaring Fork Valley 160 miles west of Denver. And occasionally, he mounts full-fledged musicals. The food is prepared by nearby Glenwood Springs restaurants.
“We were in the middle of our biggest and most expensive production ever with ‘Into The Woods’ when we were shut down," said owner and Artistic Director John Goss. "We had an excellent cast and a beautiful set that I hired an artist from England to paint. As soon as I can, I’ll be opening a smaller revue show with social distancing to be able to at least open the doors with small crowds until I can continue ‘Into The Woods’ for a larger audience.
“I’ll need to do this before Thanksgiving so that I can put up another holiday show that brings in the majority of the revenue for the year. If I can’t have full crowds by Thanksgiving, I honestly don’t know if the theatre will survive or not. We’ll see. If anyone has any ideas, please email me.”
'Anyway, it was a good 46 years.' – Ed Baierlein
The never-say-die beatnik rebels at Germinal Stage-Denver, who have tried and failed to retire multiple times over the past decade, have been officially "on hiatus" since November, when the company staged “Mrs. Warren's Profession” at the John Hand Theatre.
“However, the way things stand now, what with COVID-19, the scarcity of performance spaces and getting old and all, it wouldn't surprise me if we've done our final production,” said co-founder Ed Baierlein, 76. "Although the drive-in ‘Sound of Music’ sounds really tempting,” he added, referring to an idea currently being floated by BDT Stage in Boulder.
“Anyway, it was a good 46 years.”
Tomorrow: Straight Talk with artistic leaders from four more Colorado theatre companies
Contact John Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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