Even as a cautious lifting of safer-at-home orders for Colorado businesses has begun, Denver’s performing arts organizations and venues continue to be roiled by coronavirus-triggered aftershocks.
On Thursday, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts announced the cancellation of its Theatre Company’s entire 2020-21 season, which would have run from late August through June 2021. That the trustees of the city’s largest arts employer took this action underscores the near-term uncertainty of organizations dependent on humans gathering in numbers that, for the moment, exceed evolving but still demanding social distancing protocols.
Nine shows in all were cancelled, among them two commissions set to receive world premieres: the Colorado-themed “Rattlesnake Kate,” by composer-lyricist Neyla Pekarek, formerly of The Lumineers; and Beaufield Berry’s family drama “In the Upper Room,” which was workshopped during the Denver Center’s 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. Even the DCPA’s annual holiday go-to, “A Christmas Carol,” has been felled by the coronavirus. Bah humbug, indeed.
The fate of Broadway tours slated to come to Denver for DCPA’s 2020-21 season is currently unknown. Among the shows slated for the Buell in 2020: “1776” and “Ain’t too Proud — the Life and Times of the Temptations.”
Actor’s Equity, the union representing more than 51,000 actors and stage managers in live theater, added thoughtfully to the concerns when it released four core principles “needed to support life and healthy theater production” Tuesday. They are: “The epidemic must be under control; Individuals who may be infectious can be readily identified and isolated; the way we audition, rehearse, perform and stage manage may need to change; and efforts to control COVID-19 exposure must be collaborative.”
Although the hope was the season could be salvaged, Chris Coleman, artistic director for the Theatre Company, will now shift gears to create an online presence for the city’s premiere theater company. He’ll be doing this with a much-reduced staff. The DCPA has trimmed 55% of its staff, and the Theatre Company’s hit has been greater than that. While 36% of the company’s budget comes from ticket sales, the rest is a combination of philanthropy, funds from the Scientific Cultural Facilities District and earned revenue from other programming lines, in particular the Broadway touring division of the Denver Center.
“Hamilton” should have been a harbinger. The Denver Center’s mid-May postponement of the blockbuster musical’s August through October engagement underscores the unique, entwined relationship the Denver Center’s Broadway division and its Theatre Company share. When it works – and it has since the Denver Center’s inception – that relationship helps fund, expand and deepen the organization’s artistic reach. The big Broadway musicals’ revenue helps make possible the Theatre Company’s presentation of commanding and adventurous, classic and new plays.
For this unprecedented moment, that symbiotic relationship has proven tricky. With the cancellation and postponement of 25 shows, two fundraisers, hundreds of education program classes and all event rentals at the Seawell Ballroom, the Denver Center’s fiscal resources have been stressed. The financial hit taken for FY21 is in excess of $10 million.
The creative repercussions of the Denver Center’s fiscal challenges were already being felt before this announcement. When the world premiere of David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar’s immersive work “Theater of the Mind” — for Off-Center — had to be postponed, local directors Betty Hart’s and Amanda Berg Wilson’s opportunities were also waylaid. They were each named assistant directors for the high-profile show. Wilson has her own company — Boulder’s The Catamounts — and once smaller theaters start navigating the social distancing challenges, Hart should be on a short list to helm a play or a few of them. Even so, to see Hart and Wilson land these gigs testified to the ways in which the city’s behemoth could substantively help and engage the local theater community.
“I don’t think those go away,” said Coleman during a video conversation about the world premieres and other shows that spoke to the theater company’s commitment to female creatives and playwrights of color. “We’re not going to do a season. But those projects are all hot contenders to start the next season. I think anything we’ve cancelled – including ‘Choir Boy and ‘Until the Flood’ [each by noted African American writers were set to finish the 20-21 season] – will be in the mix the next season and a half or two seasons. I don’t think they go away, but it’s going to be a while before we put them on stage.”
According to Thursday’s announcement, the Denver Center’s board of trustees plans to “revisit this decision in October and, if circumstances allow, make every effort to return to the stage this coming spring.” Denver Theatre Company subscribers should receive an email advising them about their current subscriptions.
In the meantime, Coleman is figuring out an online presence for the theater company, one “aligned with who we are,” he said. “I think we’ve been slow but over the next month, you’ll be seeing a lot more content. I’m actually excited about it.” As for gathering, he’s wary and optimistic. “I think we’ll find our way back; it’s just going to be messier road than any of us hoped.”
DCPA’s postponed productions
“We are actively working to secure alternate dates and will let patrons know their ticketing options when we make those announcements via email,” DCPA said on its website.
- Disney’s “The Lion King”
- Dixie’s “Never Wear a Tube Top…”
- “My Fair Lady”
- “That Golden Girls Show”
- “Theatre of the Mind”
DCPA’s canceled productions
“Patrons with tickets to canceled events will receive an email with an option to receive a DCPA credit, request a refund or donate the value of their ticket,” DCPA said on its website.
- “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous”
- “The Band’s Visit”
- “The Book of Mormon”
- “The Children”
- “A Christmas Carol”
- “Choir Boy”
- “Improvised Shakespeare”
- “In the Upper Room”
- “Light Up the Sky”
- “Mean Girls”
- “Rattlesnake Kate”
- “The SpongeBob Musical”
- “Until the Flood”
- “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
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