Long Beach theatres go dark amid virus scare

Rehearsal image from Long Beach Opera’s (LBO) production of “The Lighthouse,” scheduled to have been performed at the Aquarium of the Pacific beginning March 21 but now postponed to an unknown later date because of coronavirus-related closure

Responding to the state ban on large gatherings of people to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, most Long Beach theatres have gone dark.

The Long Beach Playhouse (LBPH), Musical Theatre West (MTW), Long Beach Opera (LBO) and International City Theatre (ICT) are among local companies that have canceled or postponed shows after Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order last week banning large gatherings of people until the virus is contained.

Some companies, such as the Long Beach Landmark Theatre Company and The Found Theatre, have no current productions scheduled, but here is how others are faring:

Paul Garman, MTW’s executive director, told the Signal Tribune this week that about 55 cast and crew members are affected by the theatre’s postponement of its musical production “Mame” that was supposed to have opened March 28.

Theatre companies have to negotiate rights to stage copyrighted material so postponement can be iffy. But MTW hopes to move “Mame” to August instead, at which time the 55 actors and workers would be paid, Garman said.

“We were fortunate in that we were able to postpone it,” Garman said. “All those people will eventually get that money. They just didn’t get it when they hoped to.”

In addition to cast and crew, the postponing the show also affects employees of the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the CSULB campus, which MTW rents by the day for its productions, including paying for staff.

“We employ ushers from them and some of the stage crew and backstage people,” Garman said. “So certainly those people will be without that income for the next month that they were anticipating having.”

Garman added that cast and crew members also work part-time as waiters and bartenders in bars and restaurants that the state-mandated to be closed or reduced in occupancy as of earlier this week.

MTW’s income will also be reduced by the lack of ticket sales, though Garman is not yet sure how much that will be. Its income has been further reduced since the closure coincides with MTW’s season ticket-holder renewal period.

But Garman hopes that MTW will be up and running by May. Rehearsals are still scheduled at the end of June for its July production of “Treasure Island.” He added that MTW is not in as bad a shape as other theatre companies that have had to completely cancel shows.

“We should be fine,” he said. “When times are tough, people like to get out and see theatre because it gives them some hope and gives them a diversion. But it may just be the time to stay at home and work on other things.”

ICT, on the other hand, may have to cancel at least one show.

Nestled in the Beverly O’Neill Theatre between the Long Beach Convention Center and the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, ICT has been attempting to postpone its scheduled production of a new play called “Daisy” that was set to open April 29.

Artistic director caryn desai [sic] told the Signal Tribune on Monday that she hoped to push the opening date back a week to May but then over the weekend learned of the CDC’s suggested ban on gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

“I’m thinking I will have to lose a show or more this season,” desai said. “Obviously, the health and safety of our patrons, artists, staff and community are the first priority. It’s challenging trying to make decisions about an unknown future.”

She added that losing those shows will be a huge hit to ICT’s operating budget and programming.

“Right now we cannot predict the unknown or the size of the negative impact on our budget– or the impact on our work, not only on the mainstage but in our six education programs,” desai said.

Aside from financial concerns, desai expressed regret that she may not be able to bring the California premiere of “Daisy” to Long Beach audiences as a cultural experience.

“[It’s] a riveting new play about actual events in 1964– the Johnson/Goldwater campaign and the first negative televised political ad– which only aired once and then was banned,” desai said. “It’s timely, relevant, and an important play.”

In a statement issued last week, LBO’s Executive Director Jenny Rivera expressed similar disappointment at not moving forward with its scheduled March 21 opening of “The Lighthouse,” an opera based on a Virginia Woolf novel and staged at Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific.

Rivera noted that the production had been in rehearsals for weeks with an innovative set designed by LBO Artistic Director Andreas Mitisek in the Aquarium’s new Pacific Visions theater.

“As he often does, Andreas has figured out a way to change the way opera and a performance space interact with one another, creating something that is totally unique and immersive,” Rivera said. “The singers are terrific (and fearless, climbing around on a very tall set!) and the score is truly haunting and effective at creating the atmosphere for this mysterious story.”

Rivera said LBO is working on a contingency plan to postpone “The Lighthouse” performances to a later date. Its next production of “Billy the Kid” is still scheduled for early May.

“I hope that experiencing art together can help soothe the soul in these troubled times,” Rivera said.

LBPH, located at 5021 E. Anaheim St., canceled its final week of “Noises Off” on its Mainstage that was supposed to have continued through March 21, as well as a collaborative series of plays in its upstairs Studio Theatre. It’s also postponing its New Works Festival that had been scheduled for March 27 and 28.
Madison Mooney, LBPH’s executive director, told the Signal Tribune this week that reactions have been disappointing.

“Our cast and crews work quite hard,” Mooney said. “Nearly all are volunteers, so to see your efforts canceled or up in the air is incredibly hard.”

LBPH’s website still lists show dates for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” beginning April 4, but Mooney said it will announce a revised production schedule next week.

In the meantime, LBPH is trying to keep its employees paid.

“LBPH has been quite fortunate the last two years that we’ve ended in the black and we had put a little money aside in an emergency fund,” Mooney said. “It won’t last forever, but this will help to pay staff while we have limited income coming in. We are also monitoring spending even more closely.”

Mooney also echoed a sentiment about the value of artists that many of those interviewed for this story also expressed.

“While all these live-arts events are canceled or postponed, people are still turning to art to help them through this– watching something on Netflix, listening to music while they work from home or creating their own art to help ease their anxiety,” Mooney noted. “I hope everyone realizes how arts and culture help them, and after we get through this, they support their local artists and arts organizations.”

Known for its edgy and visceral shows, the Garage Theatre, at 251 E. 7th St., will also likely cancel the remaining run of its current production, “Psycho Beach Party,” scheduled to run through April 11.

Matthew Anderson, one of the theatre’s founders and artistic director, told the Signal Tribune Wednesday that the theatre was first only going to cancel this coming weekend’s show but now realizes it may have to shut its doors for longer.

“Everything’s changing so fast,” Anderson said.

It’s tough on the cast and crew, who’ve been working on the show for two months, he added. Though they are nearly all volunteers, the theatre usually allocates a portion of its budget to pay the actors, designers, set builders and stage managers as a sign of appreciation.

“It’s not much, but it’s something,” Anderson said.

However, last year, the theatre didn’t get a grant from LA County that it had previously used for that purpose and ticket sales are its only other source of income. The theatre’s “feed the actors’ fund” will also not be fed with donations from audience members during the closure.

Expenses ramp up at the start of the year as theatres line up productions for the season, trusting that audiences will come, Anderson said.

“If people don’t come, we’re going to have to have faith in the City and faith in our landlord that we can keep this going,” he said.

Artists bring people together times of crisis such as this one, Anderson added.

“We do what we do because we love what we do,” he said. “People come out of their houses to be together and to share this experience. To have that not really be an option right now is really surreal and it’s really strange. The nature of what we do is being in a room together.”

Cal Rep and P3
CSULB’s student-oriented Cal Rep and relative newcomers P3 Theatre Company are viewing their current closures positively.

Margaret Black, interim dean of CSULB’s College of the Arts, told the Signal Tribune Tuesday that Cal Rep’s performances of “The Wolves” and “Zoot Suit” have been canceled with the campus’s closure.

Since its productions are funded by ticket revenue from the previous season, Cal Rep will take a financial hit, though Black said it hasn’t yet calculated how much that will be.

Theatre students are continuing their coursework, but through nontraditional means, such as video, to keep progressing toward their degrees.

“We will be using alternate modalities and will be working with students remotely until the end of this semester,” Black said.

But Black stressed that students and faculty are facing the challenge positively, embracing new avenues through which to work.

“The good thing about artists is you give them a problem and they solve it,” she said.

For the P3 Theatre Company, mandatory closure has allowed needed time to move out of the Ernest Borgnine Theatre in the Long Beach Scottish Rite Event Center, where it had taken up residence last fall.

Jon Peterson, P3’s executive director, told the Signal Tribune this week that P3 wasn’t able to bring in as much money for the event center as it could get from other sources, such as the film industry.

P3 is canceling its productions of “Next to Normal” in early April and “A Chorus Line” in early June, hoping to stage those later in a new venue.

The company is currently considering the Renaissance High School for the Arts as a possible new location, with its unique stage offering multiple seating configurations and new state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment.

“It really opens the level of creatively we can bring,” Peterson said.

Peterson had also been hoping to take P3’s productions of “MGM in Concert” and “Day After Day” on the road to other theatres and retirement communities, but those plans are also on hold given the virus scare.

“We’re just on pause right now,” he said.

Possibly a bright light in the darkness, LBSC in the Helen Borgers Theatre at 4250 Atlantic Blvd. maybe a small enough venue to avoid having to close, at least for now.

Producer Dana Leach told the Signal Tribune that LBSC is continuing its programming. However, it had to cancel its final weekend of “Hamlet,” scheduled to have run through March 23, because one of the actors faced pressure from his family not to perform given the virus threat.

“We are all volunteers, even the actors,” Leach said. “We can’t ask someone to sacrifice their relationship with their family for our show.”

For its two upcoming radio-format plays in April– “An Inch and a Half of Glory” and “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax”– LBSC has scrubbed its surfaces, cleaned air vents and changed filters and will wipe down bathroom surfaces after each use.

If patrons still feel uneasy, LBSC will exchange already purchased tickets for other shows in the season, but cannot provide refunds and still stay afloat, Leach said.

LBSC also welcomes donations of any amount to help pay the theatre’s rent until ticket sales resume, Leach added. It has previously relied on community support when facing setbacks, such as the 2017 passing of founding artistic director Helen Borgers.

“We have survived a fire, the crash of 2008 and the loss of Helen,” Leach said. “I hope the community will rally around us again, lift us on their loving shoulders and carry us through this storm.”


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