The Curtain Falls

Ensuring the health of our theaters during and after COVID-19 closures

ATC's Legend of Georgia McBride

This is an anxiety-inducing time for many of us, and it feels even more difficult when the very things we turn to for comfort -- coming together with others, sharing stories, and escaping into performance -- are the same things we must give up in their communal, social form. Let us be clear: preventative cancellations are unquestionably for the best, and we fully support Mayor Romero's guidelines for public health. History shows us again and again that measures such as these, when taken in advance of a crisis and when adhered to properly, save lives. That is not up for debate. While we encourage everyone to engage with art and storytelling in their homes in literary and film form, we mourn the cancelled shows and the temporary loss of the special connections forged in theatrical spaces.

Other local media have released lists of the cancelled shows and events, so we won't rehash that here, but we want instead to talk about the impact that such cancellations have on local theatres and artists, and what we can do as a community to ensure their recovery when we are able once again to gather together to enjoy public performances.

First and foremost, the cancellations represent a very serious loss of income to not only the actors, but all technicians, artists, and staff in the theatre. What we see on stage represents hundreds of hours of work by a large team, many of whom will never be in the spotlight. Theatres pay much of the cost of a production upfront, so cancelling after much of that work has been completed and paid for represents a real financial blow. Often, the profits from one show go directly into mounting the next production; breaking that cycle represents a dangerous rupture from which a theatre might not recover without our support.

One thing we strongly encourage audience members to do during this time, if they can, is to monetarily support your favorite theatre. For the moment, this may simply be not asking for a refund on a ticket you pre-purchased for a show that's now been cancelled. If you're in a financially secure position, you may even consider making a donation to a local theatre -- no matter the amount, theatres will be grateful for the gift and the message of support it sends. In addition, there is a more general fund being set up and managed by the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona that will provide support to any nonprofits hurt by cancellations due to COVID-19. (You may visit the CFSA website to learn more and donate.)

Here's the thing: artists are trained to be resourceful and adaptable, so you might be able to enjoy some of your favorite live performances in new ways. Organizations around the globe are already finding ways to keep the arts alive during social distancing. The Metropolitan Opera is offering free online streams of their performances during the Coronavirus crisis. The Berlin Philharmonic waived its fees to watch concerts online. Any plays or music in the public domain (as well as original performance content written or created in-house) can be voice-recorded or videotaped and distributed to patrons as an alternative to live performances. We encourage patrons to temporarily accept and support the efforts made to produce content digitally, and also to understand that it may not be a viable option for some companies, artists, or shows. Keep in mind that quality recording isn't something most live performance venues have easy access to, because their purpose is to present material live. Smaller operations will have to purchase equipment and hire sound editors and film crews to make these services possible. In other words, production and distribution of digital content will create more expense but potentially less income—lower digital ticket prices and fewer patrons. Not to mention that any content not licensed for recording would be illegal to distribute digitally.

Looking ahead, please also consider making a point to give your support to theatres when we return to business as usual. Enjoy a show, make a monetary donation, or donate your time or skills in another way! Theatres rely on the community for continued success, and your presence is the only way to ensure their doors stay open and stages stay lit.

We wish you all the best during this time, and encourage you to take care of your mental and physical health, as well as that of your neighbors and community. There's only one acceptable way to come through this: together as Tucsonans, loving and caring for one another.

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