ASC to end Actors’ Renaissance Season early and cancel Spring Tour Homecoming Season

American Shakespeare Center released the following letter from Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny today:

Dear Friends, 

ASC is just one small theatre, in a semi-rural region recently dubbed “micropolitan.”

But in the 20 years since we built the Blackfriars Playhouse, a vibrant Shakespeare ecosystem has grown up around us. We’ve propelled the tourism growth of our area by millions, season after season.  In addition to performing at home 48 weeks a year, we send our National Tour from Maine to Texas to Michigan bringing quality Shakespeare to colleges, universities, and under-served small towns throughout the country. We currently employ about 25 full-time staff, 15 part-time staff, and nearly 30 actors and stage managers on contracts that range from 18-50 weeks.

So we do our part as a small business.  We are an employer.  We are an economic engine.  We are a point of civic pride and an important educational resource. 

We do what performing arts organizations do throughout America: we build community.

And as a nation we need community right now, perhaps more than any time in the last 50 years.

So it is a particular heartbreak to share the news that we are going to have to shut down for the next two and a half months, suspending our current Actors’ Renaissance season of four shows, canceling our Spring Season of four shows (including a world premiere), releasing all of our actors from their contracts, and furloughing our staff.

We’ve looked at the problem from every angle, and this is the only path to save our organization and position us to return and help rebuild and rejuvenate our local economy with the Marquee Summer season that we hope will begin performances in June.

It’s an extreme step, and we’d like to make sure you understand what goes into this kind of difficult decision.  ASC depends on its box office for almost 80% of its annual operating expenses.  Like many not-for-profit arts organizations we operate very close to the edge, with little to no cash reserve.  We need to make an average of $50,000 a week at the box office to meet our expenses.  In fact, one of the core goals of the five-year plan we were just about to roll out in May is a robust and focused effort to secure four months of working capital and shore up the investments made in our remarkable facility.

In the spring, our steadiest income is in the form of education sales to our student matinees and a collection of colleges and universities that come for a day or a long weekend “SHXcademy” to take in our repertory of shows while studying with teaching artists.

With the school closings necessitated by the coronavirus crisis, we lost more than a dozen fully subscribed matinees.  Our tour, currently on the way home, lost two weeks of bookings.  All told, we’ve watched that all important weekly box office revenue drop from $60,000 to $49,000 to $22,000, and falling.

There are plenty of bright spots.  The energy in our theatre this weekend was an inspiring example of just what kind of community we have and we make.  It has also been a potent reminder of the intrinsic human need to share stories, and to find ways to come together in the face of unknown and even unknowable terrors.  In service to that ideal, we are exploring myriad ways to keep the ASC content that you know and love coming to you through digital platforms (stay tuned for more on that in the coming week).

I have been exceptionally proud of how every single member of ASC, from our hard working staff to our courageous casts to our profoundly dedicated volunteer ushers, has pulled together to keep the lights on and the doors open.

I am coming to you now to ask you to pull together a little more. As we temporarily shut down in an orderly fashion, and make plans to restart our rehearsal process in mid-May to bring you Othello in  mid-June, we need to raise $350,000 in order to stay in business between now and when we can once again put revenue generating work on our stages. This figure will allow us to employ a part-time, skeletal staff for essential operations, make payments on the mortgage for the Blackfriars Playhouse, continue to cover health insurance for all furloughed staff and artists, and keep our actors safely housed until we begin again.

Renew your commitment to this community of artists.  Respond to our urgent need.  Give the City of Staunton the economic boost it will need to bounce back from these next few months of local and national hardship:

  1. Please give. As much as you can.
  2. Buy your tickets for the summer season now.
  3. Convert your tickets for canceled performances into donations.
  4. Share your support and encourage others to follow your leadership.

We usually sign off with a cheery “we’ll see you at the Playhouse.”  This time that salutation is perhaps a little more hopeful, a little less certain, and a little more significant.

I really and truly hope to see ALL of you at the Playhouse beginning again in June and continuing through the fall and into a holiday season later this year when we can celebrate that at a crucial moment we came together to protect the people and places we cherish.

Until then, be safe and be well.

Ethan

All pre-purchased tickets for canceled performances will be initially moved into placeholders to be used for a future performance.  If patrons would like to convert their pre-purchased tickets into a donation, they are encouraged to call the Box Office.  The Box Office can be reached at 877-MUCH-ADO (877-682-4236).

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