TCG is committed to supporting the theatre field in preparing for, mitigating, and recovering from the COVID-19 global pandemic. Our response efforts include: stabilize the field by advocating for and disseminating relief funds; organize theatres through virtual gatherings and online resource-sharing; communicate the urgent needs of the field and it's role in staging our country's recovery; innovate news ways of connecting with audiences; and transform the systemic challenges our field faces to emerge stronger from this crisis. To join the online community COVID-19: Prepare, Mitigate, Recover, please email Corinna Schulenburg.
From TCG's Executive Director, Teresa Eyring
TCG's executive director Teresa Eyring has been continually updating the field on actions we're taking in response to COVID-19. The following is a timeline of her messages.
June 18, 2020: Changes at TCG
Thank you to everyone who participated in the second part of our 2020 TCG Virtual Conference: Re:Emergence-Convening (Part 1 of Re:Emergence-Convergence took place virtually in May). In response to the loss of so many Black lives to police brutality and the ever present reality of White supremacy, we reframed all of our programming through two criteria: does this session center Black, Indigenous, People of Color?; and does it actively work to dismantle White supremacy? Close to 2000 people were in attendance over the four days, and you can find the archive videos here.
Taking our National Conference virtual this year was a major feat, and was just one of the larger changes underway at TCG as a result of COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, we quickly realized two things: first, that our field would face catastrophic revenue loss; and second, that we needed our collective power more than ever. We decided to renew all of our Member Theatres regardless of their capacity to pay membership dues, and remove the financial barriers to attending the conference by eliminating registration fees. Thanks to the Payroll Protection Program, we made it through one of our busiest seasons with our staff fully intact; however, we must now make the kinds of difficult decisions regarding staff and programming so many of you have also endured. We’ve tried to do so through an equity lens, while also aligning with the vision emerging from our strategic planning process, led by Yancey Consulting. Here are some of the programmatic changes at TCG that may affect you moving forward:
American Theatre magazine is pausing its print edition at least through December 2020 while continuing online. Over the next six months we’ll continue to report the news, publish special online issues, host our podcast series, and launch new live virtual events. Please read Rob Weinert-Kendt’s letter to learn more about how American Theatre will keep the ghost light on.
We’re closing our in-house research department after completing current activities like the Fiscal Survey 2019. We are grateful that so many of you have already invested substantial time and energy into the survey, and Ilana Rose will be available to support any final questions you have until Wednesday, June 24. We will use the next several months to reflect deeply on what research is most needed and how we can most effectively collect and analyze data, including through new and existing partnerships. We will continue our longstanding collaboration with Dr. Zannie Voss and SMU DataArts, and we’ll share more details soon.
We’re evaluating TCG’s expanding role as a virtual convener and how that may impact future large-scale convenings, such as the Fall Forum on Governance and National Conference. We’ll continue to provide distance learning and peer-networking opportunities on the Circle and through Zoom webinars and meetings. These opportunities have been invaluable, giving theatre practitioners effective ways to learn, make new friends, and take action.
TCG Books will publish fewer titles this year, going from its current amazing pace of 25-30 new books a year to 15 new books. Please remember to visit our astonishing catalogue of plays, built up over 36 years, for some inspiration while your favorite theatres are dark.
In making these programmatic shifts, the most painful part has been reducing our full-time staff, while also moving some staff members to part-time. Each of the people leaving TCG have made vital contributions to this organization and to the field we serve. More than that, they are trusted colleagues and beloved friends.
Like any significant transition, these changes involve loss as well as renewed purpose and opportunity. As I shared in my closing remarks at Re:Emergence, we don't know what TCG or our field will look like six months from now, let alone a year. But just like our founding mothers of 60+ years ago, many of you, many of us, have a vision. It is that collective vision, and most especially that of our BIPOC colleagues, our disabled colleagues, our queer and trans colleagues, our survivors, our immigrants and refugees, who will lead the way. Let us have faith in each other, during this time of revolution and rebirth.
May 6, 2020: Opening Remarks at Virtual Convening
Edited from remarks given by Teresa Eyring and Adrian Budhu at Convergence, part one of TCG's 2020 Virtal Convening.
The name of this two-part Conference is Re-Emergence, and that title holds multiple meanings. One of the things it means is that our conversations are intended to be emergent, to live in an open, generative space. For while this pandemic is many things, a crisis, a tragedy, and an existential challenge for our field, it is also surely a transition, a portal through which our field must pass and be changed. If we move through this transition with care and intention, we hope that we can come through these losses stronger than before. So Convergence is intended to be a space of collective envisioning.
That said, we know that many of you join these conversations needing immediate tools and resources to keep your theatres and theater careers alive. TCG is committed to providing these tools and resources, as well. Moving between a visionary space while also navigating complex federal legislation and budgeting scenarios isn’t easy, but for theatre-makers, it’s also not unfamiliar. And for us at TCG, we believe that a holistic approach, one that responds to our immediate needs while strategizing about our future, is essential.
That’s why TCG has assembled a five-part responsiveness framework. TCG’s response efforts will:
1. stabilize the field by advocating for and disseminating information about relief funds;
2. organize theatres through virtual gatherings and online resource-sharing;
3. communicate the existential need of theatres now and the intrinsic role theatres will play in staging our country’s recovery;
4. innovate new ways of connecting with audiences and creating our artform;
5. and transform the systemic challenges our field faces to emerge stronger from this crisis.
A core part of our Stabilize efforts is our advocacy at the federal level. TCG works in coalition with other arts advocates to ensure that not-for-profit theatres and theatre artists are included in critical relief legislation. You’ve also supported that work through the over 7,000 messages you’ve sent since the pandemic to your Congressional representatives. This work is led by Laurie Baskin at TCG and she tells us we can't let up! Keep those messages coming to Congress.
We organize through affinity-based online communities in the TCG Circle, where theatre people have sent over 3,000 messages to each other since the pandemic.
We’ve also been working with journalists to ensure that the needs of the field are clearly communicated, with articles posting in the New York Times, NPR, New York Magazine, Forbes, and others. And we’ve begun to lift up the innovative ways theatres are connecting with audiences, most recently in our webinar, Virtual Toasts: Online Galas & Donor Engagement.
That brings us to our work today; the work of transformation. Convergence will support the urgent need of connection and collective action as we grapple with the changing needs and challenges facing the non-profit theatre field. We will do what the TCG Conference has always done best: bring different types of theatre people together for emergent conversations and ideation.
April 28, 2020: CARES and Community Care
“Amidst all the furloughs, amidst all of the financial anxiety...there might be a temptation, to think if not say, ‘it’s not personal.’ I have fought that. And then the thing that I follow up with is...but shouldn’t it be, though?’...And I just want to invite us all, and challenge us all to contemplate...how can I make it more personal? How can I stop talking about ‘the organization?’ What happens if we start saying the people who comprise the organization, the people who constitute the organization, versus ‘the organization’ as if it is something other than the people who inhabit it?”
--Stephanie Ybarra, artistic director, Baltimore Center Stage
Thank you to everyone who attended our webinar last week, CARES and Community Care: A What Now Webinar. The archive video is available here. Stephanie’s quote above ended the webinar, and speaks powerfully to our need to move through these difficult days leading with compassion, with humanity, with our shared personal connection.
We’re following up this week with another webinar, Virtual Toasts: Online Galas & Donor Engagement, today Thursday 4/30 at 5pm ET. This webinar will feature Lynn Eve Komaromi of Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Emika Abe of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company sharing what worked in their successful pivots to online galas. We’ve also covered this important trend in the American Theatre article, “Shows Are Cancelled, But the Galas Must Go On.”
One thing that these webinars and Zoom calls across the field are showing us every day is how many passionate practitioners are out there fighting for the artform we love and for the health of their communities. As Stephanie references in her quote, it’s not just about buildings or balance sheets, but the beautiful ecosystem of people whose creativity ensures that theatre can be central in our communities and ultimately part of the rebuilding.
April 20, 2020: CARES and Community Care
Today TCG joined 40 national arts and cultural organizations to urge the federal government to do more to support the arts sector. We submitted a new slate of policy recommendations, which we encourage you to reference when contacting your representatives. While the CARES Act included many relief opportunities for theatres and theatre artists, much of that funding has been exhausted, and so we’re redoubling our advocacy efforts.
On that front, registration is live for CARES and Community Care: A What Now Webinar. From 4:00 to 5:30pm tomorrow (Tuesday, 4/21), we’ll be joined by our friend Greg Reiner from the NEA as well as lawyers from Epstein Becker Green to better understand the opportunities that still exist within the CARES Act. We’ll also hear from peers on how we can care for our staff, our communities, and ourselves in a time of furloughs and social distancing.
We’ll soon be launching a second snapshot survey to capture new information about how the pandemic is impacting our field and your experiences accessing federal relief. The results from our March 2020 Theatre Coronavirus Preparedness and Impact survey, which we released last week, were critical in our advocacy at the federal level and with media outlets, and so I strongly encourage you to take the April survey to support our case-making.Last week, we announced that the TCG National Conference has transformed into a two-part online gathering, 2020 TCG Virtual Conference - Re:Emergence. The first part, Convergence, will take place from May 6-8, and support our urgent need for connection and collective action. The second part, Convening, will be held June 2-5 and focus on knowledge-building and sharing through a variety of virtual formats. TCG members will have the first crack at registration, with the conference available to all at no charge and the option to make a donation in any amount. Registration will launch soon!
April 3, 2020: Accessing Paycheck Protection
If you haven’t already, please act now to submit your application for the SBA Paycheck Protection COVID-19 relief loan program. While not-for-profits are eligible, the competition for these dollars will be fierce. Laurie Baskin has provided some resources and guidance on navigating both the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) as well as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. We’re planning a webinar to support theatres in accessing the opportunities these pieces of federal legislation present, and we’re also adding state, municipal, and other funding sources to our COVID-19 Prepare, Mitigate, Recover Circle community.
While we prioritize relief funds to stabilize the cash flow crisis many theatres are facing, we’re also planning for the medium and long-term impacts of the pandemic and economic shock. The five-part responsiveness framework we’re developing stabilizes the field by advocating for and disseminating relief funds; organizes theatres through virtual gatherings and online resource-sharing; communicates the urgent needs of the field and its role in staging our country's recovery; innovates news ways of connecting with audiences; and transforms the systemic challenges our field faces so that we emerge stronger from this crisis.
On a final note, I want to acknowledge that while all of us are facing the social and economic shock of this pandemic, for some of us, the loss has become deeply personal. For those of you grieving, for those of you sleepless with worry for a loved one fallen ill, we are holding you in our hearts. Please let us know how we can help.
March 27, 2020: The Actions We're Taking Together
Since my last message, we have leapt into collective action. Together, we have:
As our research reveals, the need for radical action is now. Many of you are already dealing with difficult choices, including layoffs, as the result of significant lost revenue. Of the theatres that responded to cancellation questions in our survey, 57% had cancelled performances that were already supposed to have taken place and 33% had already cancelled performances scheduled to happen more than six weeks out. In the face of the resulting cash flow crisis, 57% of responding theatres have committed to fully or partially compensating artists and staff involved with cancelled productions, while the remaining 43% said they would like to but either can’t or are unsure they will be able to do so. Theatres are seeking ways to maintain their relationships with artists and audiences, with 67% of theatres reporting that they are exploring/pursuing performance alternatives. Even in the darkest times, it’s inspiring to see our field taking care of each other and remaining committed to engaging with our communities.
And there are so many reasons for hope, from major relief efforts in Washington, DC and New York City; to artists supporting artists through acts of online performance; to crisis-management webinars from our friends at Management Consultants for the Arts. Some of you may remember that the Weekly Briefing itself was born as a means of staying closely connected during the worst of the 2008 recession. The Briefing, like our field, has endured; and together we will make it through this.
I leave you with the inspiring words of the U.S. and International World Theatre Day messages.
March 13, 2020: Next Steps to Address the Outbreak
Our theatre field has always shined brightest during our darkest days. After 9/11, theatres served as places of community healing. During the worst of the HIV/AIDS crisis, theatre artists acted up against a hostile and indifferent government, saving lives. After the Parkland massacre, theatre kids led a movement to end gun violence. The resident theatre movement itself was born alongside the Civil Rights movement, with theatres like the Free Southern Theatre embodying their inextricable connection.
With the COVID-19 global pandemic, dark days are here again, and in spite of the closures of many of our theatres, we know our field will find a way to shine our essential light. In many ways, these closures are themselves a painful yet shining act of solidarity, ensuring we play our part to flatten the curve and lessen the harm of this outbreak--especially for those who are most vulnerable. Whether you’re one of the theatres making those difficult decisions now, or planning for what decisions may come, TCG is here with you and we will get through this storm together.
Here’s what we’ve done and will do:
- We are advocating at the federal level to ensure that any relief efforts include theatres and theatre artists--please contact your representatives today.
- We’re studying the impact of the outbreak to better serve you and make the case for increased support to the field--please fill out this short survey ASAP.
- Last week, more than 500 theatre people turned into our webinar, Coronavirus Preparedness for Theatres, Thank you to everyone who attended, and special thanks to our presenters for bringing their deep experience on such short notice. Paul Christy, the acting executive director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has now shared the risk assessment framework he presented. We’re looking toward the possibility of another webinar with updated information soon.
- We’re launching a community on the TCG Circle for theatre leaders to share tools and resources for navigating risk assessment and mitigation, cancellations, and more. Please email Corinna Schulenburg if you’d like to join.
- We’re investigating ways theatre might connect with audiences in new ways that support social distancing while still feeding our hunger for art and connection.
- We’re considering how our own programming and services, including the National Conference, can remain as accessible as possible. We’ve cancelled the book event Tracy Letts & Will Eno in Conversation and our staff is now working remotely.
TCG is not alone in doing this work. Our sister service organizations across the country are also taking powerful steps to support this field we love, and individuals are organizing resources for freelancers and teaching artists, who are particularly vulnerable.
And so we are with you in feeling the grief over the shows that have been and will be cancelled, and we are with you in the uncertainty that at times can feel overwhelming. But we are also with you in preparedness, in solidarity, in creative solutions, and in collective action. Let us know what you need, even if it’s just to talk with someone. I am here for you. We are here with you.
February 27, 2020: Preparing for the Impact of the Coronavirus
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning on the spread of the coronavirus, saying, “it’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when.” Several municipalities, including San Francisco and San Diego, have declared a preemptive State of Emergency to be ready.
While the number of U.S. cases remains small, we know that an outbreak could have significant direct and indirect impacts on our field. Toward that end, we wanted to share some resources with you:
- The CDC has posted a central hub of updated information;
- They’ve also urged businesses to prepare an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response plan and are working on guides for community- and faith-based organizations and event planners of mass gatherings to use;
- They recommend staying in contact with state and local health agencies for location-specific guidance;
- The World Health Organization has shared a post on mass gatherings;
- ArtsReady has also shared this guidance to support arts organizations; including the importance of communicating with audiences and stakeholders; and
- Our friend and TCG board member Ellen Richard suggested theatres check with their insurance companies to see if they’re covered for closure due to “civil authority.” It may be too late to get coverage now, but if it’s already written into your policy, it will help with planning.
In addition to the immediate operational preparations theatres should take to protect our staff and communities, there are medium- and longer-term consequences to consider. How can theatres prepare for the economic uncertainty of a significant outbreak? What impact might an outbreak have on contributed income? What role can theatres play in supporting our communities before, during, and afterward? How can we be in solidarity with Chinese, Korean, and Asian American communities who are facing racist and xenophobic responses to this outbreak?
We are tracking all of these pieces, and, in addition to sharing the resources above, wanted to hear what would be of most use to you: an open video chat where theatres can share how they’re preparing and responding? A webinar with experts in preparedness? Please write back with how we can best support you and move in solidarity together, whatever may come.