Gala experience available virtually and in-person, culminating in live performance & live stream from the Blackfriars Playhouse

American Shakespeare Center today announced that their Annual Gala will return on October 17 in a new hybrid format that allows friends of the theatre from all over to celebrate together. The Gala will center on the end of their groundbreaking 2020 SafeStart Season and feature the closing performance of critically acclaimed Othello, called “powerful…unflinching…spectacularly effective,” by The Wall Street Journal.

“We are thrilled to offer our ASC family the opportunity to participate in our Gala whether they can safely make it to Staunton or not,” says ASC Director of Development Kelly Burdick, “We have carefully curated 2 interactive experiences that ensure the 2020 Gala will be special if you’re joining us virtually or in-person.”

 Following Shakespeare’s guidance from Henry VI, Part III that:  “The wise ne’er sit and wail their loss, but cheerly seek how to redress their harms,” (Act 5, sc 4), the unofficial theme for the 2020 Gala is “resilience” celebrating the conclusion of a remarkable SafeStart Season performed in the midst of pandemic challenges.  When the company had to close suddenly in Spring 2020, ASC managed a swift and nimble pivot to online theatre as well as a successful “Keep the Lights On” fundraising campaign. In July, ASC became one of the first not-for-profit theatre companies in North America to return to live theatre under a layered series of mitigations against the spread of coronavirus called the SafeStart Plan. 


2020 has been a year like no other, and through it all ASC has sought pathways to continue to bring artists and audiences together around the work of Shakespeare, indoors, outdoors, and online,” says Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny, “While the entire theatre and performing arts industry has been stymied, ASC has bravely carried on, the little theatre that could in the Shenandoah Valley fulfilling its mission to illuminate not just plays but communities even in extremely difficult and challenging times.”

Each year, ASC honors a person whose contributions to ASC have been fundamental to their mission of making the joy of Shakespeare accessible to all with the Goodfellow Award. This year’s winner is not just one person, but many: all 2,538 people who participated in “Keeping the Lights On” when the theatre had to close in March 2020. This includes donors in gifts from $5 to $175,000 as well as those who gave generously of their time and theatre staff and artists who remained diligently at their posts in the face of furloughs and adversity.

ASC also presents the Burbage Award each year to someone whose career has significantly advanced the love of Shakespeare’s work through the public production of his plays. This year’s recipient is Dr. Allison Baroco, infectious disease specialist at Augusta Health, Shakespeare fan, and advisor on ASC’s SafeStart Plan. Dr. Baroco donated her time and expertise to the theatre and has remained on-call since June 2020, allowing ASC to operate safely and become a beacon of hope for other performing arts companies.  The SafeStart Plan has transformed not only ASC, but also how theatres all over the country might operate in the age of coronavirus. 


“Without Dr. Baroco, this season couldn’t have happened,” says ASC Managing Director Amy Wratchford, “She has been incredibly generous with her time, answering our texts, emails, and calls at all hours.”

Although 2020 has disrupted many theatre’s plans, ASC is committed to being a dual citizen of both  the physical and virtual worlds. This means adapting everything all work to be presented in two different ways; the Annual Gala will be no different. ASC hopes to present an engaging and hands-on experience for every guest, no matter the format in which they join the fun.

The ASC Annual Gala will take place on October 17, 2020, beginning at 6:00 PM for those in Staunton and at 5:30 PM for those joining online. In-person Gala guests will enjoy a socially-distanced pre-show reception, while online guests will gather at virtual tables via an intelligently designed Zoom set-up. The show begins with ASC’s signature acoustic music, the presentation of awards, and a live performance of ASC’s critically-acclaimed Othello which will also be live streamed for digital viewers.

“ASC has been remarkably successful at adapting to the COVID-19 circumstances,” says Board Chair Candice Hark, “We’ve figured out how to re-create the Gala experience virtually, including guest interaction, table visits from company members and artists, and a cinema-quality, real-time streaming performance. The hybrid Annual Gala is just the next step in ASC’s evolution. It will be a memorable night, whether you’re in Staunton or joining digitally.”

Tickets are available now at www.americanshakespearecenter.com/gala/. Virtual guests should RSVP by October 9 in order to receive a personalized “Gala Box” with everything they need to set the scene for a celebratory evening. Red carpet looks are encouraged for all guests.

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