STRAIGHT TALK WITH THE FINE ARTS CENTER, MINERS ALLEY PLAYHOUSE, DANGEROUS THEATRE AND LONE TREE ARTS CENTER
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 Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center entered into a historic partnership with Colorado College in August 2016, when the college dedicated more than $20 million of its endowment for the ongoing support of the Fine Arts Center now run by playwright Idris Goodwin (“This is Modern Art”).
The esteemed Theatre company headed by Producing Artistic Director Scott RC Levy presents year-round musicals, comedies and dramas, and last year won the Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Award for Outstanding Season.
“If ever there was a time to feel grateful for that merger, now is it,” Levy said. “Because of our relationship with the college, I believe that we have been buffered to some degree by some of the extraordinary cuts that I am seeing across the industry nationwide.”
Still, the COVID19 carnage since the March 13 shutdown has been massive, including “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” “Silent Sky,” “Men on Boats,” “In the Heights” and “Lonely Planet.” Levy now has the aspirational goal of staging a one- or two-person holiday-themed show in December, followed by “one-night only” attractions until March, when he hopes to be able to produce a full-scale show again – with live-stream capability for those who might still be uncomfortable attending in person.
'If ever there was a time to feel grateful for that merger, now is it.' – Scott RC Levy
“The overall state of the company, all things considered, is pretty good,” said Levy, who has retained his entire full-time theatre staff. After the shutdown, the company almost immediately launched a significant digital platform called “FAC Connect,” with much more planned programming in the pipeline. The company also hosts a robust theatre school that is continuing to provide everything from digital summer camps for 5-year-olds to adult dance classes, which in turn continues to provide income opportunities for teaching artists.
“The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” was just a week into performances at the time of the shutdown, but more than 500 then purchased a ticket (offering an average donation of $8) to watch it during the one week it was allowed to be made available online. The Youth Rep company spent a month creating its own collaborative video projects that have been viewed more than 1,000 times.
“As we continue to develop the potential scenarios regarding how and when we are able to get back to live performances, I am currently assuming a cut in operating expenses of close to 50 percent – not to staff – for the fiscal year beginning July 1,” Levy said.
The fan base has rallied as well, with only 10 percent of those holding tickets to canceled shows asking for refunds. The rest either chose donations or future credit. “Additionally, we already have sold close to 200 subscriptions for the 2020-21 season, representing approximately 10 percent of our normal subscription base," Levy said. "I continue to be optimistic.”
The 130-seat Miners Alley Playhouse, which opened in downtown Golden in 2003, presents a wide variety of six plays and musicals each year, along with five children’s shows. The fare ranges from edgy regional premieres like the Tony Award-winning Best Musical “Fun Home” to classic Neil Simon comedies. Titles canceled or postponed by the pandemic include “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Hope and Gravity," “The Crucible” and “Once on This Island.”
“We have continued to pay our staff, as well as the artists who had been hired to do our shows before we closed on March 13,” said Executive Artistic Director Len Matheo. "We also have continued to employ our videographer, Ray Bailey, to create online content to keep our audience engaged during this shutdown, including actors from ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ cast performing scenes from the show."
Matheo finally gave up the ghost and announced on June 8 that all mainstage programming is canceled through 2020. That also means "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and Josh Hartwell's six-actor adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" have been added to the kill list, as well as two children's productions.
"After months of back-and-forth, and given the latest info coming from the State of Colorado, we are faced with the cold, hard fact that people will not be able to come back to the theatre in sufficient enough numbers before the fall, and that we won’t be able to enforce sufficient distancing to keep our audience and our artists safe," Matheo said.
But he hedged his bets, and why not? "If safety permits, we may produce something for the holidays," he added.
'Any income is better than no income. – Winnie Wenglewick, on her decision to re-open in July.
“Dangerous Theatre has always been a little weird,” said founder Winnie Wenglewick. (I swear that’s her real name!) “Owned by one person," she said. "Tucked away in an industrial warehouse. Little in the way of sets. Casts usually of four or fewer." Then there’s the off-hours private social club that has brought in the bulk of her revenue over the past 12 years.
Dangerous Theatre is located where you would least expect a theatre to be: In a row of warehouses in the Denver neighborhood known as Valverde, about a mile south of Mile High Stadium. It’s called Dangerous because it’s a dangerous proposition to attempt to make a living producing theatre. And it’s dangerous enticing audiences to come see plays they have never heard of before. Case in point: The play that was presented entirely in the nude – and for one performance, audiences got in free if they came naked, too.
Dangerous seats only 50 but is rarely overrun with patrons. “Sometimes I only have four tables and chairs set up because I am expecting a small audience,” said Wenglewick. But COVID brings her one upside: “Hey! Now I can set up my tables and chairs any way I want – and still account for social distancing!”
Wenglewick has what she considers to be “the most amazing landlord who is riding this storm out with me, knowing that after 12 years in this space, and with five more years on my lease, I'll make up the rent eventually."
While it is not economically feasible for most theatres to open anytime soon, “I plan to open in July, with extremely limited seating, for my comedy shows,” said Wenglewick. “The only income I have is from my business and, at this point, any income is better than no income. I will keep seating to no more than 24. I will require masks and control when and how folks enter the theatre. I have purchased multiple air purifiers that will run during shows and UVC lights to clean the front area and surfaces at night.
“Of course, many folks won't be ready to come out again. I understand completely. But for folks who do, I'll try to provide the safest option for live entertainment, even if for a very small, spread-out audience.”
During the down time, Wenglewick is giving the entire space a facelift and decor change. “I cannot tell you how much I hate painting,” she said.
'Our focus is to support our colleagues who have no other outlet to deliver their work. We will be the vehicle.' – Lisa Rigsby Peterson
While Lone Tree’s jewel of an arts center occasionally produces its own theatre programming (“Evita”), it more regularly presents one-night theatrical events such as concerts featuring Broadway performers. Major theatre events wiped out by the shutdown have included a “Broadway Princess Party” featuring Laura Osnes, Susan Egan and Christy Altomare; an evening with Andrea McArdle and Donna McKechnie; and a tribute to Jerry Herman.
Like everyone else, Executive Director Lisa Rigsby Peterson is now awaiting a relaxation of orders forbidding gatherings of 10 or more.
In the meantime, “we have chosen to focus on what we can do, and that is deliver content online and also support our fellow arts colleagues,” Rigsby Peterson said. “We are fortunate to have our own theatre and stage, a staff that is still on payroll, and a yearning to make great work happen. So, we are focusing on bringing small local music groups – classical, jazz, rock, soul, you name it – to the Lone Tree Arts Center and live-streaming their work to either YouTube or Facebook.”
Some of that programming feeds nicely into Lone Tree’s existing and ongoing series called “Arts in the Afternoon,” which was created as daytime programming to serve senior patrons who prefer matinee performances.
“Because we are certain it will be some time before many of them are able to come back in person, we are shifting ‘Arts in the Afternoon’ to a virtual experience through the end of the year,” she said.
From 1:30-3 p.m. Wednesday, June 24, vocalist Sheryl Renee ("Home for the Holidays," "Beehive") will perform with pianist Tom Sandquist. Songs will include "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "What a Wonderful World" and "Stand by Me." "This will be a professionally produced live stream," Rigsby Peterson said. "We can't send the usual cookies and lemonade over the internet, but we can certainly send the music." This is a "choose what you pay" performance with different options for ticket prices. You are asked to purchase a ticket for each individual who will be watching the stream, just like you would if you were purchasing a seat in the theatre.
“Our other focus is bringing small groups to the Arts Center and live-streaming their work is to support our colleagues who have no other outlet to deliver their work. We will be the vehicle. Performers can come to the Arts Center, we’ll live-stream them, and they are free to sell tickets, create virtual tip jars, broadcast their Venmo accounts or whatever else works. “Because we are a City-owned facility – and because we are just all-around law-abiding citizens and good guys – we will follow all health and safety protocols as well as all legal regulations as they relate to delivering online content.
“Our future, like many, is uncertain until the rules and attitudes surrounding live arts gatherings become clearer. We will be reaching out to our loyal donors to encourage them to continue, and, if possible, increase their giving to ensure our work can continue.”
Tomorrow: Straight Talk with artistic leaders from four more Colorado theatre companies
Contact John Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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