Springfield Contemporary Theatre "Weathering" The COVID-19 Shutdown
For this week’s “Coronavirus Edition” of “Arts News,” we checked in with Rick Dines, Managing Artistic Director of Springfield Contemporary Theatre, to hear how SCT is weathering the stay-at-home order.
Dines said they have already had to cancel their two final mainstage shows this spring. “We made the decision on Thursday the 12th of March to go ahead and postpone our March/April production of ‘The Cake.’ And then, when we shut down our offices and suspended operations on (March) 16th, we pretty much determined we probably weren’t going to be seeing the May production”—which was supposed to be “Parade.” Another casualty of the 2019-2020 season was an “SCT Sings” evening devoted to the songs of Burt Bacharach, scheduled for the end of March. “That concert has also been postponed,” said Dines.
“So those productions have all been pushed into next season at this point.” Ironically, SCT was within about a week of announcing their 2020-2021 season when COVID-19 caused them to shut down for the duration. “And so, we didn’t make that announcement, and at this point we’re kind of holding off on making any kind of announcement, because we don’t know when we’ll be resuming, and how we’ll be resuming exactly.”
What will SCT choose to open their new season—when they are able to do so? “Probably ‘The Cake,’” said Dines, “because that show was about seven, eight days from opening. So that cast was getting pretty close to ready to open—and that set is still sitting on stage, needing to be finished. So theoretically, we would hope to reopen with ‘The Cake.’ But I think there’s going to be lots of factors to take into account in reopening. And that’s the kind of things we keep waiting for, to get more directives on.
“Yes, if we get to a point where certain groups can assemble in certain numbers, it might be possible to try to social-distance an audience within the theater and do a show. The problem with that becomes, with the intimacy of our space, once you social-distance an audience within the space, we may not seat much,” Dines said with a laugh. “We may not be able to put more than 30 audience members in the theater. At that point it doesn’t financially make any sense reopening, because at that number we can’t afford to stay open.” Seating capacity in SCT’s performance space in the Wilhoit building is approximately 100 or less, depending on the staging involved.
Normally, said Dines, some 65 percent of their annual revenue comes from ticket and concession sales, “and then about 35 percent is donated.” When I noted that those figures would have to flip at the present time, Dines corrected me. “Well, until we can really get back in performances, it’s got to be 100 percent un-earned income! So that’s kind of where we’re at, and we’re trying to stay on top of everything… and also start considering what options might be out there. If you can gather a certain number of people, as long as there’s social distance, then do we look at producing off-site in order to be able to get as many people at a performance?”
When you visit SCT’s website, www.sgftheatre.org, the first thing you’ll notice is a large banner, “COVID-19 Relief Fund.” It’s a campaign the company launched in early April, said Rick Dines, “to just try to help us realize some monies to offset our expenses. At this juncture, we’ve scaled back, we’ve tried to pull expenses down as much as we can. Right now we’re trying to maintain the staff—just a three-person staff—as well as the fact that we have three spaces. Not only do we have our downtown performance space and offices, we also have a rehearsal studio on Commercial Street, and we have a warehouse west of downtown that houses scenery, costumes, props, furniture and things. And so, I’ve got basic utilities and insurance and rent on all three of those spaces. So right now, we’re just trying to cover the basics. And we luckily, knock on wood, were able to take part in the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) while there was still money. So that also has helped. “But really, honestly,” added Dines, “we’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten from the community and from our donors and supporters. To date (Tuesday, April 21st, when we conducted this interview), we’ve raised between $29,000 and $30,000 through our Relief Fund.
Taking a breath, Rick Dines said, “So I’m feeling optimistic about being able to, you know, weather this. But it all depends on how long it goes on, before we can put stuff back on in front of audiences!”
If you’d like to chip in and help SCT while the “house is dark,” Rick Dines suggested that “people that can afford to give at this time, that’s really the biggest and best thing. Or, share on social media what we’re trying to do. Also, our Music Director (Alex Huff) just put together a video from the production of ‘Parade’, that we were a week into rehearsals for. He got the two leading actors and some of our musicians, as well as some other musicians around the country, to get together and create a video for one of the songs from the show, which is on our Facebook page and other things. So by all means, people are encouraged to share that and see that. But at this point, it’s not like there’s lots of other volunteer opportunities or anything, because we’re all kind of waiting to get back into the office and get back to it.”
The video of music from “Parade” is on www.youtube.com – search “All The Wasted Time | Parade | Springfield Contemporary Theatre;” or link to it from their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SGFContempTheatre, or their Twitter account, twitter.com/SGFContempThtre.