Layoffs come to Alabama Shakespeare Festival

State theater of Alabama drastically reducing staff amid coronavirus pandemic

Layoffs come to Alabama Shakespeare Festival
Layoffs are coming to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, one of the south's leading professional theater companies and the official state theater. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - While some businesses have reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic, others are still suffering through forced closures.

Entertainment venues like theaters are particularly vulnerable. Movie theater chain AMC reported recently, it may not survive.

And there are similar concerns about live theater. This week, WSFA 12 News learned that layoffs are coming to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, one of the south's leading professional theater companies and the official state theater.

The Festival's Executive Director, Todd Schmidt, says the coronavirus makes producing shows nearly impossible.​

Alabama Shakespeare Festival Executive Director Todd Schmidt
Alabama Shakespeare Festival Executive Director Todd Schmidt (Source: WSFA 12 News)

“Because the nature of what we do requires audiences sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and actors being closer than shoulder-to-shoulder at times, it’s impossible for us to predict when we’ll get back," Schmidt said.

ASF Artistic Director Rick Dildine says the theater has done what it can in recent weeks to continue to serve the community.​

"I'm proud of the way ASF artists and craftspeople have pivoted," he said.​

For example, the theater's costume shop worked to sew thousands of face masks for local healthcare providers. Actors offered online workshops. And some of them even performed online, reading from scripts written exclusively for ASF.​

“We commissioned a group of southern playwrights to write some original work,” explained Dildine. “They collaborated with an actor somewhere in the country and now there are 22 new pieces of theater on our website.” ​

Alabama Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Rick Dildine
Alabama Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Rick Dildine (Source: WSFA 12 News)

But the theater is getting to a point now that it can no longer afford to pay those artists. What was a staff of 95 before the pandemic began is being reduce to only 10.​

"We are going to have to layoff and furlough a number of employees just to maintain the integrity of the organization," said Schmidt.​

The hope is to bring back those employees when it is safe to produce live theater. But no one knows when that might happen. ASF leaders are remaining optimistic about the theater's future.​

"Theater has survived pandemics and plagues for hundreds of thousands of years. And we'll survive this one too," Dildine said. "In those times when there was some type of challenge, artists evolved. And that's what we're seeing now."​

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival says it will survive financially thanks to corporate and individual donors, including ticket holders who did not ask for refunds, even though their shows were cancelled. If you would like to make a donation or to learn more about ASF’s online offerings, visit the theater’s website.

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