MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the arts world. Across the country, stages and theaters remain empty as performing arts companies figure out how the show can go on while keeping its actors, staff and audiences safe.
“The theatre industry is pretty much devastated at this moment,” said Alabama Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Rick Dildine. The stage and the seats in the audience there have been empty since its last performance on March 14.
“How they work, what we do is intimate. It’s close up, running backstage, a costume change, being in their dressing rooms, being in the rehearsal halls. It’s intimate stuff,” Dildine explained about the work it takes to put a production on the stage. The work is too intimate to continue right now, leaving many without jobs and a big hole in the economy.
“There are over 47,000 people in Alabama alone that have jobs in the arts and culture. In Alabama alone, the arts and culture is a $4.8 billion contribution to the state’s GSP. And right now, a lot of folks are not working. They can’t do their craft. They are having to make terrible, terrible decisions,” said Dildine. “This past year, our peak payroll was 130. And we’re down to 20 right now. So we’ve had to furlough and lay off.”
And now ASF is making some major adjustments.
“We’re still making plans,” Dildine insisted. “We’re making plans with the unions, and we’re planning what we’re going to do programmatically. So right now for the next year, you can expect some online and outdoor programming.”
In the meantime, Dildine is finding hope that even the worst of times can produce positive results.
“It’s forced us to think creatively. It’s given us some time to plan big ideas,” Dildine said. “It’s brought forth new leaders in our organization, new energy. It’s got a, there’s definitely a can do spirit and a gusto of how we’re going to come out of this.”
It’s not just local theaters feeling the pressure right now. Broadway is closed until 2021 and the Radio City Rockettes have cancelled their 2020 season for the first time since 1933.