Like just about everything else we love, live theater is canceled for the foreseeable future — and many of live theater companies are wondering how or if they will survive.
Three excellent theatre companies in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs offer a range of experiences for a range of audiences. For semi-professional productions in a black-box theatre, we have Act3 Playhouse in Sandy Springs. For an intimate experience with professional talent, we have Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players, who produce full-scale productions on a small platform stage. And for full-blown Broadway-style musical productions on a full proscenium stage, we have City Springs Theatre Company at the 1,070 Byers Theatre.
Despite their differences, they all rely on ticket sales for most of their operating funds. But ticket sales are what they don’t have and won’t have for the near future. At City Springs, where most of the talent is Actors’ Equity, no one can come back to work till the union gives them permission. Act3 doesn’t use union talent, and Stage Door Players uses mostly non-union.
Even if their theater buildings open any time soon, they would still be unable to mount productions because the talent would be reluctant to sing and shout in each other’s faces, much less kiss and hug!
“Welcome to my COVID nightmare,” said Stage Door Players Artistic Director Robert Egizio in a statement that could apply to all three theaters.
Back in March, Stage Door Players was a week from opening “The Outsiders” when the City of Dunwoody closed their venue. The sets had been built, the costumes created and rehearsals ongoing. They honored everyone’s contract, though they couldn’t mount the show. Egizio admits the decision to close was inevitable.
“We had six out of seven characters using the same phone!” he exclaimed.
But Egizio pointed out that backstage interaction is as problematic as onstage because of the close contact required for costume fittings, set building and dressing rooms.
Act3’s last production closed the week after Valentine’s Day. In the works was an immersive production of “Cabaret,” in which they were turning their entire space into the Kit Kat Club.
“We kept trying but gave up and refunded to season ticket holders. Some donated their tickets,” said Act3 Artistic Director Michelle Davis. Like Stage Door Players, they’ve had no ticket income since February.
At City Springs, where the cost to mount a typical production is $500,000, ticket sales are down 50% from last year.
“We’ve canceled two-and-a-half, soon to be four-and-a-half, shows,” said Executive/Artistic Director Brandt Blocker, though the company recently announced a series of four special Broadway concerts live-streamed from the Byers Theatre. Season subscribers will have access at no extra charge, with complimentary food-and-wine gift baskets for Producers Circle members. Individual tickets will be $35.
All three companies are hoping to have a 2021 season. City Springs has already scheduled productions for March, May and July. Act3 plans to mount a play already scheduled for 2021. Stage Door Players’ plans are still undecided.
As for the future of live theater, all three agree there will be changes, most noticeably at the two smaller theaters, where social distancing is not possible.
“One of our biggest selling points — our intimacy — is holding us back,” said Egizio of his 125-seat theatre. Stage Door Players had hoped to mount fall productions in the amphitheater at Brook Run Park until the city of Dunwoody banned large gatherings.
Egizio pointed out a small community theatre in Iowa that is mounting productions in a parking lot with a temporary stage from which the sound is piped to people in their cars.
He’s planning two cabaret shows that will stream on Facebook and Instagram. Act3’s Davis foresees new plays that weave the concept of social distancing into the plot.
“Creativity will determine who survives short-term,” Egizio said.
And that applies to individuals as well. Most actors and the other backstage people who support them are gig workers with no income when not involved in a production.
“Many talented theater people are living on unemployment and food stamps because even their second jobs have dried up,” said Egizio. “I know actors who have been evicted and had to move back in with their parents.”
To help one another, Atlanta theatres and artists have banded together to form the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund, to help those in dire straits. Donations are accepted at both the website atlartsrelief.org.