Three Ways Covid-19 Will Hurt Your Future Paycheque
By Pieter Huyer
Covid-19 has shut down the theatre industry. Our entire profession has stalled, and thousands of entertainment workers are stuck in forced unemployment. The immediate economic downside of a year-long lockdown is incalculable. Worst of all, there is not much we can do about it.
But theatre will survive. It will return, and at full capacity. Are we prepared for that day? The impacts of this pandemic will reach far past any immediate ease of our world-wide lockdowns. Covid-19 has altered the theatre landscape, and there is work we can accomplish now to help minimize any long term effects on our future paycheques. Here are three economic problems we can tackle in preparation for theatre’s eventual return:
1) Audience Interest
Even if productions are open and the most epic show of Jesus Christ Superstar is on stage, will our audiences come back? If we think beyond the quality on stage and look from an audience’s members point of view, do they feel brave enough to venture from their homes and enter a theatre? Theatre always contained several consumer barriers to the average ticket holder: additional costs like paid parking, the aversion of leaving home with digital entertainment, transportation distance, and late show-times on work nights. These purchase hurdles blocked audiences from buying a ticket, and we can now add “widespread fear of public settings” to that list. Even the most die-hard theatre fan will stay home if they feel unsafe. It is our responsibility to adjust this narrative and market ourselves to the conditions. If we do not act, our theatres will remain at half capacity, no matter how cosmic the talent on stage is.
2) Restricted Theatre
The limits on total indoor audiences may soften, but the entire theatre creation process will remain wonky. A new set of rules will alter the product on stage, from physical distancing requirements to bubble seating for our audiences. What kind of theatre can we make with full onstage mask policies? We all battled workflow and market inefficiencies long before Covid-19 set in, but will we adjust to a wildly different version of theatre? Is theatre still theatre if we are unable to perform in close contact?
3) Production costs
Producers will alter budgets to an immense degree. Theatre’s already worked within razor-thin margins, but there is just not enough to go around after complete lockdowns. New shows have to accomplish a whole lot more with a whole lot less, and production costs will bear that price. Even worse, donor submissions will drop as Covid-19 hurts previous investors’ capital. Grant submissions and government funding are sure to disappear as countries deal with massive amounts of debt. Everyone is under pressure, and that will trickle down from the executive producer to the seat ushers.
Ah, when spelled out in full, that feels like a lot. The task ahead is not for the faint of heart. Still, theatre folk are resilient, and these are issues we can prepare for now. It is time to put together an action plan. We can get ahead of the curve! Change is good, and this is our moment.
I propose a radical financial, marketing, and audience overhaul. With a cursory glance at the budget sheet, ticket prices need to go up, not down. The numbers do not allow for anything else. Re-marketing campaigns need a desperate injection of cash to rebuild customer relationships, and new safety initiatives need extra funds to become industry-wide practices. In short: ticket sales can no longer support our entire income. They must contribute to a more robust entertainment vehicle. A new business model typical of a traditional entertainment corporation is required. It is time for us to evolve into an elite form of entertainment. Let us claim our value. It was always there, shining in the quality of our work. Our audiences just never knew it. We now have the time to implement new business strategies, and we can revamp theatre into an economically viable business for all. We can prepare our way out of Covid-19.