UPDATED: Growing Impact of COVID-19
By ANTHONY CHASE
MusicalFare Theatre has re-scheduled its upcoming performances of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder from April 22-- May 24, 2020 to July 7th to August 15th, 2021. This is just the latest COVID-19 related adjustment to the theater season.
As shows fall like dominoes in the path of the virus, here is a list of productions scheduled for Spring 2020, roughly in chronological order of opening. Those that are confirmed cancelled, curtailed, or postponed in response to COVID-19 are in red. Some predictions put the peak of the pandemic in May or later. With various possible scenarios for the future progression of the virus, we can assume that other cancellations and schedule adjustments are forthcoming.
Scotch & Madness - Alleyway 2/20-3/14
Hand to God - Road Less Traveled Productions 3/5-29
Kiss of Spider Woman - New Phoenix Theatre 3/6-28
Indecent - Kavinoky 3/6-29 -- possible summer run
The Onion Game - Irish Classical Theatre 3/6-29
Eclipsed - Subversive - 3/6-28
Hello, Dolly! - Shea's - 3/10-15
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - All for One - @710 3/12-29
Dance on Widows Row - Paul Robeson Theatre 3/13-4/5
The Outsiders - TOY 3/14-5/5
Three Tall Women - Second Generation 3/20-4/5
Buffalo Quickies - Alleyway 3/26-4/18
Diary of a Wombat - Shea's 710 - 4/7
Desde el Puente (10 min) - Raices 4/10-26
The Band's Visit -- Shea's 4/14-19
Lucky Stiff - O'Connell 4/16-5/10*
Gospel at Colonus - Ujima 4/17-5/10*
Robert Dubac’s Book of Moron - Shea's 710 4/17
The Dining Room, Carriage House Players, Taylor Theater, Lockport, April 17- 26
Girls' Night: the Musical - Shea's 710 4/18
Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder - Musicalfare 4/22-5/24 - postponed
Imagine the World - Alleyway 4/23-5/16
Modern Orthodox - Jewish Rep 4/23-5/17 -- possibly moved to next season
Curious Case/Watson Road Less Traveled 4/23-5/17
The Cherry Orchard - Irish Classical 4/24-5/17
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - New Phoenix 4/24-5/23
Shea's Black-tie Gala with Audra MacDonald, 4/25
Miss Nelson Has a Field Day, Shea's, 4/29
Mystery of Irma Vep - Kavinoky 5/1-24
Bubbling Brown Sugar - Paul Robeson Theatre 5/1-24
Five Songs for Fillmore - Torn Space 5/1-17
Bright Star - MusicalFare@710 5/7-17
Go Dog Go - TOY 5/9-6/6
Anton in Show Business - Brazen-Faced Varlets 5/15-5/31
Two Afternoons at Kelly’s - Subversive 5/15-6/6
Steel Magnolias - O'Connell & Co - 5/28-6/21
Man with a Load of Mischief - Opera-Lytes - 6/4 - 7
Drama at Inish - Irish Classical 6/5-28
Spunk -- Ujima - 6/5-28*
Cabaret - Second Generation 6/12-28
As You Like It -- Shakespeare in Delaware Park -- 6/13 - 7/12
Swing Swing Swing - Musicalfare 7/8-8/9
A Midsummer Night's Dream -- Shakespeare in Delaware Park -- 7/18 - 8/16
The list invites many questions.
What's next to go?
The answer to that question will depend upon what the virus does, but it doesn't take a genius in statistics to figure out that everything in April is in jeopardy, with May following close behind. The remaining performances of some entire seasons are already cancelled. Timing is everything. The Band's Visit has cancelled performances in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, and Boston; can Buffalo be far behind? The Shea's Gala is looking precarious. Theaters are keeping their fingers crossed that the crisis will subside fast enough to make way for Desde el Puente at Raices (4/10), Lucky Stiff* at O'Connell & Company (4/16), and Gospel at Colonus at Ujima (4/17). If not, those shows, as well as Girls' Night: the Musical could be iffy, and in the event of a long furlough, I wouldn't bet on Mystery of Irma Vep at the Kavinoky (5/1), Bubbling Brown Sugar at the Robeson (5/1), or Five Songs for Fillmore at Torn Space (5/1) either. Still, it's too soon to tell.
How will theaters compensate subscribers for unfinished seasons?
Some might give discounts for next year to provide for the missing shows. All subscription theaters will need to provide some sort of compensation. The situation will be different if a run was curtailed rather than cancelled outright. For example, some subscribers did see The Onion Game at Irish Classical, Indecent at the Kavinoky, and Hand to God at Road Less Traveled, but others did not. For that reason, the Kavinoky is exploring the possibility of completing the run of Indecent this summer, providing a cleaner slate for planning next years' subscription packages. In some cases, ticket holders could, out of generosity, compassion, and a love of the theater, consider the ticket price a tax deductible donation.
How much financial damage can each theater sustain?
Keeping the lights on is only part of the picture. Many assume that the smallest theaters are the most vulnerable, but this is not necessarily true. Smaller theaters have smaller overhead and often don't have a base of subscribers to reimburse. A larger theater might require a large influx of box office money to make payroll, a large roster of ticket holders who will want refunds, as well as larger maintenance and equipment costs.
At a small theater, the "staff" typically have day jobs they can depend upon until it's time to bounce back. Not so at a larger venue where a long hiatus could be a death sentence. No Buffalo theater is as large as, say, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where the remainder of the season has been cancelled, full-time employees, including members of the Met Orchestra and Chorus, are being paid through the end of this month, while the general manager will waive his entire $1.45 million salary and higher paid administrative staff members will take pay reductions ranging from 10 to 50 percent. All will keep medical benefits. The company has already started to work on an emergency fundraising drive. How does that pertain to Buffalo's theaters? Well, no local manager is making $1.45 million, but in the words of Thornton Wilder, as recited by Carolee Carmello in the recently cancelled Hello, Dolly!, "The difference between a little money and no money at all is enormous -- and can shatter the world. And the difference between a little money and an enormous amount of money is very slight -- and that, also, can shatter the world."
How do these cancellations impact theater employees?
Layoffs have already begun. Yes, actors have lost shows, but salaried employees are also out on the sidewalk. When a season is cancelled, acting schools are closed, and debt is mounting, how does a theater justify retaining a resident stage manager, education director, acting teacher, or full time publicist? A job that requires a full-time employee at a larger theater might be done by a volunteer or by an answering machine at a small theater. Painful decisions are being made, and in the current situation, the traditional fallback for entertainment workers -- tending bar and waiting table -- is not an option.
How does this impact next season?
You can be sure that we will see some creative subscription packages. We are already seeing titles from this year moved into next. But another reality will be debt and cash flow problems, complicated by audience attrition. Many theaters will not have that thrilling final show of the season to jumpstart ticket sales for next year. In short, even if COVID-19 disappears and never comes back, next season will be challenging. Given the circumstances and the potentially dire consequences, let's hope patrons will be especially generous in their charitable giving to the theaters, including donating their tickets back.
[The entire O'Connell & Company season has been postponed as of March 21, 2020; the Ujima season is being rescheduled; the list of cancelled shows has been updated accordingly].