Summit County theater companies work to stay afloat
SILVERTHORNE — At the beginning of March, Lake Dillon Theatre Co. was gearing up for the opening night of its spring show, “The Roommate.” Summit County had just reported the state’s first case of COVID-19, but the full impact of the pandemic was not yet understood.
Chris Alleman, the company’s artistic director, recalls that they had just put on their preview show a few days before their opening night when things escalated quickly.
“In those two days … everything went crazy across the country,” Alleman said. “At the time, we were hoping to get through opening weekend, if not opening night, so we could archive it.”
Their original hope was that the company would be able to wait out the pandemic for a few weeks before putting the production back on, but it was apparent by May that that wasn’t going to happen.
For a theater company that works on securing rights to shows and hiring directors, actors and designers more than a year ahead of time, that meant scrambling to move things around and figuring out how to continue to fulfill its mission to bring performing arts to the area amid a pandemic.
For the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, the challenge was much the same. Its spring production of “Matilda” was canceled, and an attempted Zoom-based production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” didn’t draw much of a crowd.
“The acting quality was excellent, but the audience was small,” said Jim Anderson, the board chair for the Backstage Theatre.
Both organizations saw some success during the summer hosting acting workshops for kids with virus protocols in place, and Lake Dillon Theatre Co. was able to put on several successful outdoor performances. But as the weather changes and the county adds additional restrictions for indoor spaces, what will the winter look like for the theaters?
Backstage Theatre puts winter season on hold
Backstage Theatre originally had hoped to run a production of “It’s a Wonderful Life, a Radio Play,” in front of a live audience similar to the radio-plays performed in the 1940s, but those plans were scrapped earlier this week. Kids workshops also have been placed on an indefinite hiatus amid tightened state and county restrictions.
For Anderson, the issue is two-fold: profitability and safety — not just for the audience, but for the actors.
According to Anderson, in order to return a profit on a production, the company needs to average filling 50% to 60% of the theater’s capacity, which isn’t possible to do indoors with virus protocols in place.
Outside of the restrictions placed on audiences, the group has concerns about hosting actors and conducting rehearsals in a safe manner. The company relies on bringing in outside talent, which is often hosted by local families or short-term rental companies that will allow actors or directors to stay in spare rooms. Not only are many hosts uncomfortable with bringing people into their homes right now, but Anderson said actors also are uncomfortable with the risks associated with rehearsing and producing a stage production.
For now, they are doing what they can to keep people informed through their mailing list until they can resume live productions.
Lake Dillon Theatre Co. hopes to keep patrons engaged
Alleman said the company’s focus during the winter isn’t money.
“This is not about raising money; it’s about keeping our patrons engaged,” he said.
The company is part of a national network of theaters that will be hosting a streamed showing of a one-person production of “A Christmas Carol,” with Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays performing over 50 roles. The show will be released Nov. 28 and be available to be replayed on demand until Jan. 3. It will cost $50 per household, and a portion of those proceeds will go to the local company.
Patrons also will be treated to a virtual version of the company’s annual Holiday Follies production Dec. 23, which will feature performances from 10-12 previous Follies performers streaming “music, dancing and laughter” from locations across the country. The production will be free for patrons.
Hoping for spring, looking to summer
Both companies are hoping the spring will allow them to resume indoor productions.
Anderson is not wholly optimistic that Backstage Theatre will be able to put on “Matilda” in spring but is hoping that the winter will bring good news for the prospect of putting on the canceled 2020 production.
“I’m skeptical, but why decide now?” he said, adding that a final determination for the production will be made in February, with a possibility of performing the play at the more-spacious Riverwalk Center.
Alleman is also hoping to revive his theater’s canceled spring 2020 production. Lake Dillon Theatre Co. is tentatively scheduling “The Roommate” to make a comeback in March, but that will depend on virus restrictions and agreements with theater unions to ensure actors and stage staff are able to stay safe.
If the spring season turns out to be a bust, both companies are looking for a strong summer season.
Lake Dillon didn’t put on any outdoor play productions in 2020 but will do so next year if they aren’t able to host audiences indoors. The theater has not released any firm plans for shows but is working on several contingencies to ensure a summer season.
“We’re basically creating two or three different scenarios for the summer,” Alleman said.
The Backstage Theatre tentatively has planned to put on productions of “Plaza Suite” and “Noises Off” but has not yet secured the rights to either play. Anderson is also wanting to keep things flexible until the theater has a better idea of what health restrictions will look like in the area, but he said the company is set on putting on happier productions amid the pandemic.
“Whatever we do this summer, they need to be light, funny shows,” he said. “We need to have people coming out laughing.”
On steady footing, for now
While much of the performance industry is struggling, both companies report that they are on stable footing for the time being.
Backstage Theatre currently has very little overhead costs. The company’s most recent artistic director moved back to Texas, and the rest of its staff consists of volunteers. Its main costs are for office space in Frisco. With current costs, Anderson estimates the company has enough cash reserves to last about a year.
Alleman said Lake Dillon Theatre Co. has not had to furlough any of its employees but that the company is not in a sustainable financial position in the long term. The town of Silverthorne, which owns the performing arts center, has provided the group with reduced rates for storage and facilities, which has helped to maintain programming over the summer and maintain the bottom line.
“We’re hanging in there,” Alleman said.
Both companies are looking to get a boost during the upcoming Colorado Gives Day on Dec. 8, which Anderson and Alleman hope will help them through the winter.
They continue to be grateful for the community’s ongoing support and are hopeful for the future.
“Hang in there with us,” Alleman said. “The arts will be back and theaters have gone through these turbulent times before. Theater always comes back.”
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