POTOMAC — While many businesses are struggling nationwide with paying salaries and dealing with layoffs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater industry has been hit particularly hard.
With some jobs, working remotely is possible. However, what about an industry where its primary source of income is heavily reliant on audiences gathering in one place?
It has not been easy. In Annapolis, the outdoor Summer Garden Theatre has to rent space to rehearse. However, since the shutdown orders, the rehearsal space has been closed, and rehearsing has been hard, Carolyn Kirby, president of the board of directors at the theater, told Capital News Service on March 30 via a phone call.
The theater’s season has three shows scheduled, with the first one, “Rock of Ages,” having been in its last stages of completion. It was postponed to the 2021 season even after having had about nine months of work done on it, but “now everything is in question,” Kirby said.
For a performance in July, she said, you need more practice. However, the theater and board members are having to work with “a day-to-day solution.”
Another Annapolis theater has been in a similar situation. The Colonial Players, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, had to push back their shows, as well, as a result of the pandemic.
The theater owns its rehearsal and performance space, but has financial concerns over production deposits that already have been made and the salaries for the support staff, since the theater does not have any income coming in.
Steve Tobin, the vice president of the Colonial Players, said via a phone interview that the theater is thankful for donations in lieu of tickets from the community.
The donations are tax-deductible donations to the theater.
“We’re very grateful that it looks right now — at least right now — that the financial impacts are not as bad as they could have been,” Tobin said, thanks to the donations.
He said though people have their own financial issues, they still donate — and that is “very heartwarming.”
“Through their generosity, we will be able to recover relatively quickly in the fall,” Tobin said. “That’s a gift from our patrons.”
The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre also faces production-related financial concerns.
Having to give refunds to people who already have bought tickets “is a scary situation,” Kirby said.
She said $43,000 worth of tickets were sold and now the situation is extremely uncertain, with the team having to consider canceling its upcoming shows.
Aside from the financial concerns, the performance and production teams also face a disappointment factor — of having worked months on a show and not getting to perform.
The Colonial Players, the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre and the Annapolis Shakespeare Company expressed disappointment over the loss of shows.
Shirley Panek, president of the Colonial Players theater, also works as the vice president of a technology firm — as do most of the theater’s volunteers. “We do what we do because it’s a passion,” she said.
“Just because we don’t pay people, doesn’t mean that we haven’t put in blood sweat and tears,” Tobin said.
“They (the performers) are disappointed, but they understand,” Kirby said.
Sally Boyett, artistic director with the Annapolis Shakespeare Company, told Capital News Service that its theater had to lay off all its staff except for her and another member.
Boyett said it was devastating to see people she had employed for a show watch that show be shut down.
She said though they understand “what has to happen for the public health” that it doesn’t take away from the devastation it has caused for the artists.
One of the key issues coming back from the pandemic shutdowns will be to get the audiences to get back into the habit of watching the plays, Boyett said.
She said she hopes for the best, though, as “there’s only so much Netflix you can take.”
Jason Vellon works at Sandy Spring Bank and also as a performer.
Though most community performers do it for the enjoyment of the work rather than the monetary compensation, he said having a show canceled “is like a death, it’s like something is being ripped from you.”
Vellon and his wife, Ashley Gladden-Vellon, were set to perform this week at the Anne Arundel Community College Theater for the show “Beauty and the Beast,” and through a tough audition, his wife was cast as Belle and he as Gaston.
When the director, who also is Vellon’s friend, was telling his wife the show had to be canceled, she started shedding tears, and so did the director.
“You know that, that it was the right choice to stop that show,” Vellon said. “But it is still a painful loss.”
“Being on stage, it’s kind of like a drug,” he said.
For us,” he said, “it’s part of who we are.”