COVID impacted every aspect of American society. Live theater was among the hardest hit.
No stage was immune. Locally, Westport Country Playhouse — the historic summer theater where everyone from Peter Fonda to Paul Newman performed (and Stephen Sondheim interned — canceled its entire 2020 schedule.
The 2021 season was all virtual. The Playhouse finally returned last year, with 5 well-produced, powerful shows.
But the effects of the virus still linger.
Yesterday, officials announced that the 2023 season will be pared down to 3 productions, from the previously announced 5.
“The change reflects the impact that COVID has had, and continues to have, on the Playhouse and the performing arts community nationwide,” said the board and leaders.
Though the Playhouse safely navigated the challenges of COVID — not one performance of the 4 plays and 1 musical was canceled due to illness — “audiences are coming back slowly,” said Gretchen Wright, director of development and interim managing director.
“We have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels of participation.”
The Playhouse “finished with low ticket revenue and a significant deficit – a fate similar to many other theaters in Connecticut,” Wright said.
Even in the best of times, ticket sales cover only 40% of a show’s cost. And — despite eagerness among some theater-goers to return — last year was hardly the best of times.
“The board of trustees have been very engaged in supporting the theater and all the changes, proactively leading the Playhouse to brighter future,” said Anna Czekaj-Farber, chair of the Playhouse board.
“We are an agile organization, and we are trying to adjust to ensure the longevity and health of this important institution that has been a part of our community for more than 90 years.
“We are confident that we are making the prudent decision that would allow us to prosper as we have many exciting plans for the future of this wonderful theater.”
The revised 2023 season will include 3 previously announced productions, each running 3 weeks: “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (April 11 through April 29); “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” (July 11-July 29), and “School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play” (October 24 through November 11).
The goal is to “focus on broadly appealing and revenue-positive programming, and on building deeper community partnerships,” the Playhouse said.
Additional events will be announced soon. For several years, special programming has augmented the main musical and play offerings.
Current 2023 season ticket holders have been contacted by the box office on how to claim the value of the canceled tickets by gift certificate, refund or donation.
Click here for more information on the Playhouse, and the 2023 season.
Sorry to hear this; and I suppose this doesn’t come as a major surprise since there are avid theatre-goers such as my wife and myself who are elderly with serious health issues that haven’t returned.
A couple of thoughts:
1) would there be some way to partner with Staples Players on a production? I realize the ticket prices for performances at the Playhouse would be much higher than the standard production at Staples but it could be a thrilling experience for the students to do a show in a legendary playhouse.
2) even before the pandemic, I gather that one of the goals was to try to attract a more diverse audience with respect to age and other demographics. My wife and I witnessed what a success “In the Heights” seemed to be. So, in that vein, I highly recommend “Cambodian Rock Band.” A truly amazing show that I think would pack the Playhouse (and the cast is not large).
Not surprised they had a revenue decline. They did 2 things that have alienated their loyal patrons like myself:
They insisted on requiring masks instead of making them optional, even though the pandemic had long ago subsided and vaccines become widely available. It’s fine if people want to mask themselves, but don’t impose it on everyone.
Their programming has become increasingly woke over the years to the point where there isn’t much programming that appeals to the broader population. I’m saddened they chose to cut Antigone and Cocktail Hour this year, I was planning to see those. Instead, they kept a play about high school girls in Ghana? They don’t have enough revenue, but they just hired a DEI executive and now have to bear that administrative cost?
Anyway, this is the free market at work I suppose.
We are so fortunate to have this gem in our community! Let’s do everything we can to keep it alive! Get your tickets today! Take your kids to the children’s shows and bring Playhouse Mobil Unit to other communities. Go to the Script in Hand series. Rent out the barn or the stage for special occasions. Reach out to the playhouse with suggestions. Form community partnerships. They are so receptive to feedback and ideas. Let’s keep the playhouse here for another 90 years!
Rather than limit programming, why not schedule some fun plays, musicals, comedies? Everyone needs a break from the insults of everyday 21st c. life. A fun night out might get more people in!
We love love theater and were members last year but only really loved one of the three shows. More uplifting shows, more musicals and fun, more weekend kid programming just to name a few things to help boost revenue.