Act 1: The Villain Enters

In March, Valley theaters were in peak performance mode. Venues were full and residents were enjoying the remarkable variety of live entertainment that the Greater Phoenix area has to offer. And then, like an off-cue villain in a play, a pandemic made an untimely appearance on stage, stealing the spotlight and wreaking havoc on the scenery.

Theaters were shuttered, as were local music venues — live, in-person performance came to a standstill.

For Arizona Theatre Company (ATC), the last in-person performance was The Legend of Georgia McBride, “We opened and closed on March 13,” recalled Sean Daniels, artistic director at ATC.

ATC_005 Georgia Large

ATC’s The Legend of Georgia McBride will close its 2020-21 season.

Arizona hunkered down and waited…and wondered. Would these beloved institutions be able to weather the storm?

Act 2: A Gauntlet is Thrown

“I think like everybody, this has been a challenging moment,” Daniels said. “The thing that we are hearing nationwide is that 40 percent of our not-for-profits are not going to survive this moment. So, that’s the bad news.”

Like other arts organizations, ATC had to get creative over the summer months and find ways to not only create art that will keep audiences engaged, but to keep the company viable. A safe return, especially for those whose livelihoods depend on the theater, was continually in the back of Daniels’ mind.

“I always want those people to know that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that the organization goes forward and that it is still here when they come back. The worst thing in all of this would be, it’s over in six to seven months and everybody returns, and the cultural landscape is gone.”

Daniels’ concerns are shared. According to an August Brookings report, the creative economy is one of the sectors most at risk from the COVID-19 crisis. Arts, culture and creativity are one of three key sectors that drive regional economies, and “Any lasting damage to the creative sector will drastically undercut our culture, well-being, and quality of life.”

In fact, Arizona’s arts and culture industries contribute $9.3 billion to the state’s economy, employing 91,878 Arizonans who earn a combined total of $4.9 billion annually.

So, as September rolls in, where do arts organizations stand?

Act 3: Undaunted, A Season Awaits
www.carriemotzing.photography

Jazz con Alma; http://www.carriemotzing.photography

“The good news is that we have really used this moment to try to pivot to digital and to really try to refortify a healthy organization,” Daniels shared.

Abbey Messmer, programming director at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts feels the same, “We are really grateful as an organization to be intact after five months of completely shutting down our venue, but behind the scenes we’ve all been really active. We’ve managed to adapt in a lot of ways…and certainly that means staying connected.”

Now, six months after they were closed, theaters will crack the doors open ever so slightly. While most will wait until 2021 to resume in-person performances, some venues and organizations have created ways and spaces for people to gather in a safer manner. Others are creating digital programming that will allow them to continue to engage and connect with even broader audiences until they can once again throw the doors wide open.

The Center will kick off its season of live, in-person performances Sept. 26 with Jazz con Alma, part of its Jazz Lounge series.

“We are starting off with local, and I think it is important to activate our community who has been out of work,” added Messmer. “We’re kind of easing back into the season.”

ATC will begin its season with a full line-up of digital programming and, coming full circle, it will close its 2020–21 season with The Legend of Georgia McBride.

Like so many arts organizations, Daniels feels that ATC will come out of 2020 stronger for having faced the challenges presented, but they won’t be able to do it alone.

“We are going to make it through this, but we need the support of the community to be able to do it.” |CST

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