Theatre-maker and arts administrator Kathy Hsieh on the community of theatre, the devastation the virus has wrought, and why theatres sure could use your help right now.
In the last 48 hours, pretty much all of my friends are dealing with the trauma of losing all of their theatre jobs for the next month or two or more, and many of my other friends and colleagues are having to deal with the trauma of making those calls to share the news. It’s heartbreaking — not just the loss of livelihoods for both the artists and the theatre companies, but because of the emotional pain being experienced right now.
I fell in love with theatre for a lot of reasons, but the greatest one of all is because it’s a communal, collaborative, compassionate art form. We become a family in the process of creating our art to share with our community.
So for theatre producers to have to make the tough call to cancel a show and then to have to lay off their family and loved ones, that’s painful. And knowing on top of that, that without ticket revenue, they’re not going to be able to keep their doors open because even with a strong-selling show, most theatres are living on the edge of survival. (And no, it’s not because they aren’t good at running a business, it’s because they care more about keeping ticket prices as low as possible and offering a lot of free tickets to those who can’t afford to attend otherwise, because they care more about people over profit even though they know this puts them at a perennial risk). So a lowly attended show is a huge set-back for every company no matter what the size. But having to cancel shows where all of the costs have already been paid to create the production, but now there will be no revenue to cover any of these costs — this is devastation for all companies.
On top of that, most theatres have a season of shows that are scheduled very carefully so they have enough time to give each show its focus (to rehearse, build, market, sell, run each production). Once each closes, the next one is in process (and this often overlaps where as one is running, the next one is already rehearsing). So it’s not simply a matter of rescheduling after this is over, because how will that impact the rest of the shows in the season? And what if all of your actors/production crew aren’t available at the same time when you can find a space (not to mention competing with everyone else looking for space for their postponed shows).
It’s an awful domino effect. And we don’t know if this situation is just going to last for a month or two or three so what if we are able to find a perfect slot where everyone’s schedules and an available space align and we do all the work to reschedule it in May or June only to find, come that time, that we’re still in the same situation and have to cancel again? And then there are the companies that don’t even have the resources to consider rescheduling because all the resources they had (including from their own person pocket) went into the show that’s no longer a go and they simply have no money to even try to find another slot to try again.
But the most tragic thing of all? The artists never getting to share the beautiful stories they’ve been working on (many of them juggling 12-hour days between full-time jobs and rehearsing every night/weekend). And the audiences that will never have the opportunity to experience the powerful, moving, breathtaking, fabulous productions that so many artists and arts workers spent months creating for you.
That, that is the ultimate loss. Because theatre is an art form whose magic is about human beings coming together to share our hearts in a communal space with each other. So please, please, please, if you have the means, donate to your favorite or any local theatre. Because they sure could use that tangible form of love right now. #SaveLocalTheatre
For a list of shows, postponements and cancellations, see updates here.
Kathy Hsieh is an avid theatre-maker, theatre-goer, and arts administrator. She is a founding Executive Producer of SIS Productions; Cultural Partnerships and Grants Manager at the Seattle Office Arts and Culture; and recipient of the Gregory A. Falls Sustained Achievement Award.