The coronavirus crisis has disrupted the arts world on the Central and South Coasts, forcing the cancellation of everything from rock concerts to crafts fairs.
A four-decade-old theater company in Santa Barbara is responding to the crisis by rethinking its current and upcoming seasons.
The Ensemble Theater Company’s season came to a screeching halt because of the shutdown. Now, like many non-profit groups and businesses, the Santa Barbara based organization is trying to figure out how to reopen.
Ensemble Theater Company Artistic Director Jonathan Fox says they were in rehearsals for “American Son” when the pandemic hit, and the production was cancelled. Fox says given what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and the movement it started, it would have been especially relevant. It’s the story of the anguish of parents trying to find out what happened after their teenage son, who is black, is involved in a confrontation with police.
After it ran in Santa Barbara, Ensemble was going to share its production with a theater in Germany. That was also cancelled, as was what was supposed to be the final show of the season, “Tenderly,” which is a stage version of singer Rosemary Clooney’s story.
Fox says one of the first thoughts was to push the two productions back to late summer. But, they realized that was unrealistic. Ensemble is committed to staging the two shows, so they came up with a huge alternative plan.
They are postponing the entire 2020-2021 season for a year, and then moving the two productions from this spring to this fall. Fox says they will actually start the new season with two small one or two person shows, which are easier to stage. He says they are negotiating for the rights now, so that can’t name them. Then, they’ll do the two postponed productions, “American Son” and “Tenderly.”
When they resume, Fox says things will be much different for patrons of the 300 seat theater. Because of social distancing, they will only be able to use about a third of the seats for each performance. So, they won’t offer traditional season tickets, but flex passes, because people won’t be able to sit in their usual seats. He says the run of the productions will be open ended, so they will do performances until they’ve accommodated all of the flex pass holders.
And, Fox says they’ve worked out a deal with the actor’s union which will allow ticketholders who are still squeamish about crowds to use their ticket to watch a live stream performance at home.
As a non-profit, money is of course an issue. Ensemble was able to tap into some of the federal aid programs for relief. But, Fox says supporters of the four-decade old theater company have really stepped up to help. Fox says they feel it’s important to get Ensemble up and running. He says with the all of the stress from the events of the last three months, the arts are an important refuge and diversion for the community.