CORRECTION: Playhouse ticket policies are that all sales are final. Patrons with tickets for canceled shows can contact the box office to exchange their ticket for a future 2020 Playhouse production, or individuals may transfer their ticket to a donation to the nonprofit theatre.
The stage of the Cumberland County Playhouse will go dark this week, with the local theater suspending its 2020 season for two weeks amid concerns of the spreading COVID-19 virus.
“We were trying to hold on as long as possible,” said Bryce McDonald, CEO and producing director.
The Playhouse has canceled shows through March 31, with the mystery/comedy Clue set to resume that day. The opening for The Savannah Sipping Society has been moved from March 27 to April 4, and education classes have been canceled through March 31.
Ticket holders can request an exchange of their ticket for a future show or transfer their ticket to a donation to the theater.
The custodial staff were working to disinfect the 500-seat main auditorium and the Adventure Theater after each performance. The Playhouse had also developed plans to implement social distancing protocols, limiting the audience to 150-200 patrons per show.
But guidance on how to avoid the respiratory illness continued to bring the size of gatherings down. The CDC on Monday recommended all events of 10 or more people be canceled for the next 15 days.
McDonald said the Playhouse also began seeing a decline in their ticket sales and was starting to get some backlash for remaining open.
“It was a very hard decision,” McDonald said.
The closure represents 10 performances. But for a nonprofit organization that relies on the infusion of cash from ticket sales, it could be financially devastating.
McDonald said the staff of the Playhouse had also gone through a series of layoffs and pay cuts to help maintain the theater in the interim. The Savannah Sipping Society includes a cast of four, and the production team also has four people. They will continue working and prepping for the new show. Administrative staff will work three days a week, as well, to get everything ready for what they hope is a quick return.
“We realize we’re being very positive,” McDonald said. “There is a huge possibility we may not be able to reopen for another month.”
The theater anticipates a loss of about $500,000 this season, a “catastrophic” amount, McDonald said.
The Playhouse has launched an emergency appeal to supporters seeking donations to help keep the Playhouse afloat in the interim. They will also be offering a special ticket sale of buy one, get one for the summer season through December.
“We hope to reach our supporters who may have a little extra to give,” McDonald said, recognizing that at this time there were a number of significant needs.
“Everybody’s hurting. It’s not just the Playhouse,” McDonald said.
About a year ago, the Playhouse had a malfunction with their sprinkler system that flooded the theater and damaged equipment.
But the show still went on, McDonald said.
“We didn’t miss any shows. We were still selling tickets,” he said.
This situation is different. Without performances, the theater doesn’t have revenue coming in. And there is uncertainty about how long the closure could continue.
The staff has been developing multiple plans for how to sustain the Playhouse over longer term closures, but they are relying on the generosity of their supporters to make it possible.
“We’re fighting and sacrificing,” McDonald said.
The Playhouse board of directors will continue to evaluate the situation. In the mean time, McDonald encouraged everyone to stay safe and protect their health.
“Let’s get past it and get back to some normalcy,” he said.