Posted May 2020
For the first time in our 45-year history, People’s Light will close its doors for more than 6 months. As a center for live art and personal connection, we keenly feel the financial fallout of this crisis, but will continue to bring theatre to our neighbors and celebrate our vibrant community. Here’s a breakdown of the impacts of COVID-19 at People’s Light, our subsequent response, and what we’re doing to give back.
In early March 2020, we began to realize that interruptions to our programming were inevitable. Only a few weeks after making the difficult decision to cancel our productions of Shakespeare in Love and Hold These Truths, we were faced with the cancellation of the remainder of our 2019/2020 Season (including Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland, Mary Jane, and Songs for Nobodies) and the full closure of the People's Light campus.
Our latest estimates show $1.1M in lost revenue as a result.
- We have cancelled over 150 performances, approximately $728,000 in lost ticket income.
- Due to unusually low enrollment for Spring Theatre School, the cancellation of SummerBLAST, and the suspension of in-school residencies, we expect to come in significantly under our Education programs’ revenue goals.
- Even though we plan to return for our 46th Season, demand for live cultural events has changed as we collectively face an uncertain future. Our current projections show 40% lower subscription sales for next season.
- And The Farmhouse at People’s Light, an essential income stream for the Theatre, temporarily shut down in March and is closed until further notice.
While health and safety is top priority, we're also committed to the economic and emotional support of our staff, artisans, company members, and community.
The casts, crew, creative teams, and front of house staff contracted for Shakespeare in Love and Hold These Truths were paid in full for the planned run of each play and we honored all executed contracts for the rest of the season.
Thanks to quick collaboration with our local Customers Bank, we received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through the CARES Act on April 9. These funds have allowed us to maintain employment and benefits, offer paid opportunities to affiliated artists, and continue to develop key projects.
Through our PPP loan, we secured an 8-week agreement with Actors Equity Association to employ 18 actors in new play development, live-stream experiments, and online content creation for our new virtual home, People’s Light — Always On. This has helped participating artists keep their healthcare, as AEA actors and stage managers must work for 19 weeks to receive one year of healthcare coverage.
We value civic responsibility both within and beyond our theatre community. When it temporarily shut down operations, The Farmhouse donated its perishables to the Chester County Food Bank. Our costume shop is hard at work making over 400 protective masks a week for Paoli Hospital, just down the road. We are in awe of the grit and sacrifice demonstrated every day by front-line workers, and thankful for the opportunity to support our neighbors.
When the show must go on (film)
Another People's Light first — we can hardly believe we were able to capture not one, but two of our cancelled productions on film, and share the full recordings via digital streaming links. Putting aside the fact that the art form of live theatre is quintessentially about gathering together for - well, live theatre - most companies (People's Light included) are unable to share plays online because of legal restrictions, not to mention the expense of multi-camera recordings and post-production. Normally, we film a single-camera archival video for internal use only.
When we made the decision to close Shakespeare in Love three weeks early and cancel Hold These Truths just days before its first public performance, we hoped to find a way to digitally share these productions with audiences. We quickly secured the necessary concessions from the rights holders and Actors Equity Association (AEA) to film one final performance of each.
Shakespeare’s plays might be in the public domain, but Shakespeare in Love is not. Due to legal considerations, the filmed version (which came together in record time!) was only available through April 12 for patrons who had tickets to a cancelled performance.
The filmed version of Hold These Truths was made available to affected ticket holders, free of charge, through May 10. But unlike Shakespeare in Love, anyone could experience Hold These Truths from home by purchasing access to the streaming link for $35. In fact, we were the only Philadelphia-area theatre to widely release a full performance virtually.
We also provided access to schools who had planned to incorporate Hold These Truths into their spring curriculum. Thanks to generous support from Pat and Jane Lusk, we were able to significantly expand the number of middle and high school students able to watch the film — over 1,025.
For more on digital theatre streaming, check out this recent article in Broad Street Review.
Finally, thank you
We're incredibly grateful for the love and generosity we've received since this crisis began. Gifts from $5 to $30,000 have flowed in (any amount helps!) and more than 40% of patrons affected by performance cancellations have donated their tickets back to the Theatre. Major institutions like the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and PECO have offered flexibility for project-specific grants and created special relief funds to support artists and arts organizations.
But there are still significant gaps in revenue we need to close — and lots of ways you can help. Donate what you can, subscribe to our 2020/2021 Season, or buy a gift certificate (they never expire!)
The need for shared stories in shared spaces to lift our spirits, enrich our souls, and make us laugh has always been necessary, and will be even more so when we can gather again. With your support, we will find a vibrant way forward.
From all of us here at People’s Light, thank you.