The Shakespeare Theatre Company, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the most iconic theatre companies in the United States, despite its small size. With only 116 permanent staff and a rotating cast of actors and other talent, The STC is rich with awards, history, and industry firsts.
But it is not rich with assets.
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us all anything, it is just how close to ruin many businesses operate, especially businesses in the sphere of arts. The closures of performing arts venues has cut the organization’s 2020-21 fiscal budget from $18.5 million to $10.5 million, a shrinkage of nearly 45 percent. The STC’s two venues, Sidney Harman Hall and the Michael R. Klein Theatre, have been closed since March, generating no revenue while still requiring maintenance, mortgage payments, and other expenses. Due to that loss, and the certainty of more on the horizon, just under 40 of the company’s permanent staff received layoff notices in the first week of July.
“This is all very tragic, and for no other reason than the pandemic,” said Simon Godwin, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre.
The reason STC could hold off on laying off employees in the first place was the aid of the Payroll Protection Program and a Washington, D.C., fundraising effort, the Phoenix Fund. Almost 2,000 donors raised more than $1 million to attempt to keep STC fully functioning. But no one knows when performing arts venues in D.C. will be able to reopen, and at what capacity. STC officials expect that even when they’re allowed to put on plays again, they’ll only be allowed to sell a quarter of their seats for safety’s sake. If they can fill even that.
Chris Jennings, managing director at Shakespeare Theatre Company, calls the layoffs “devastating for all of us” and adds his hopes that a financial package for arts relief is in the works, as it was in the UK “I really hope that Congress will see the value of the arts, and to find some support for our industry.”
Photo: The set of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s performance of “The Comedy of Errors,” which ran in 2018. Credit: Nat Intaraprom / Shutterstock.com