When schools reopen, how will school theater programs reopen? Recommendations here.

You’ve probably heard of the International Thespian Association. After all, 2.4 million high school kids have been inducted into the program since 1929 (and I know several of you out there right now are saying, “I was a Thespian!”).

The core activity of the Association is performance festivals around the country, which if you haven’t attended, you should find your way into one. I went to my first last year to see this show performed by high school students, and I was just blown away by the talent, the energy, and the excitement about the theater. It made me realize how bright our art form’s future is.

While you may have heard of the Thespians, you may NOT have heard of its parent org, The Educational Theater Association, which provides educational opportunities for teachers, scholarships for students, and so much more. I had the pleasure of keynoting a conference for them years before and I remember thinking, “I can’t tell who is more excited about the theater . . . the students at their festivals, or these unbelievable educators.”

Thankfully, the EdTA is leading the charge on what happens with school theater programs as schools get back to their business in the fall (fingers crossed) while the world continues to battle COVID-19.

And being the leaders they are, they put together an extensive guide and handbook called, “Recommendations for Reopening School Theater Programs” . . . and they’ve generously allowed me to share it here . . . for free . . . whether you’re a member of the EdTA or not. Because they believe that anything they can do to help encourage more (and safe!) theater just helps make the world a better place.

Whether you’re in theater ed or not, you should read it. It’s one of the most comprehensive guidebooks I’ve seen about theater in a COVID-19 world . . . and we can all learn from it. I know I did. (Oh, and you can bet I’m working on getting them to speak about this at my conference this fall!)

Speak thanks to James Palmarini, Director of Educational Policy, and Julie Cohen Theobald, Executive Director, for their leadership and allowing me to share this doc. And if you want to support the EdTA as a thank you for the guide, you can do that here. I just did.

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FROM THE EdTA RE: THE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REOPENING SCHOOL THEATRE PROGRAMS GUIDE   

The EdTA Recommendations guide is intended to serve as a support resource to help theatre teachers and administrators decide what is safely possible for their school and students—including in-person and virtual performance, curriculum, instruction, and resources. It is not a prescriptive document in which all suggested protocols are expected to be followed by every school in every state. Rather, it focuses on these three fundamental questions:

  1. How can you deliver instruction while adhering to social distancing?
  2. How can you adapt instruction for virtual teaching and learning?
  3. How can the social and emotional support that live theatre experiences provide be transferred to online learning environments?

Access the guide here: Recommendations for Reopening School Theatre Programs.

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Interested in hearing more about safety in the theater in a COVID-19 atmosphere? Click here to access an exclusive video conversation about this issue and two more top concerns for theatermakers in today’s climate.

 

[Announcement] The Dr. Kenny Encouragement Fund Scholarship For TheaterMakers

On March 22nd of this year, just a few months after moving into the city to be closer to me and his granddaughter, my Dad, Dr. Kenny Hasija, had a stroke. And as the sun was coming up on Easter morning, he passed.

It has been an interesting time to deal with this loss to say the least, because my Dad was my coach, my cheerleader, my chief strategist, and my friend. Because boy oh boy, could I have used his caring counsel over the past few months.

And as the corona-crisis continues, I am going to miss having him around over the next several months to do what he did so well, and encourage me to keep on keepin’ on.

My dad has been encouraging me since my earliest memory of him. He urged me to learn more, to try more, to speak up more, to fail more, to fight more, to love more . . . and he sacrificed more than he ever let on to make sure I could take every opportunity I had.

Put it this way . . . how many immigrant Indian Doctors do you know who would say, “Go for it,” when their son said he wanted to give up on law school and pursue a life in the theater???

(He didn’t even blink, by the way.)

His encouragement kept me going then . . . and as I vowed to him in his final few days, I will always keep going.

I also vowed to do everything I could to pass on that spirit of encouragement to my daughter, and to anyone else I met who had a passion for the theater.

So, I started a simple scholarship in his name . . . called The “Dr. Kenny” (as he liked to be called) Encouragement Fund.

I was planning on issuing just one $1,000 gift to someone attending school in the fall and pursuing a career in the theater industry. But after I wrote my blog on Wednesday about the number of artists who may already be out of school but struggling to stay in the city to pursue their dreams, I decided to offer two:

  1.  $1,000 to someone enrolled in or going to post-secondary school.
  2.  $1,000 to any TheaterMaker out there pursuing a career in the business.

If you would like to apply for these scholarships or know someone who would, please click here or share this blog.

Because as I’ve learned from being on the juries for other scholarships, it’s actually hard to get the word out to the folks who could use these funds the most. So please, share this sucker around so we can help encourage folks to keep making theater.

Because we’re going to need TheaterMakers more than ever when this is all over.

I’m hoping to continue this scholarship every year, and I’m hoping that it grows, and that my father’s encouragement to me from above can help me add some zeroes to these amounts.  (If you want to help and join some of my family and my father’s friends who are committed to encouraging others, and learn a bit more about my dad, click here.)

To be honest, I even thought about waiting to start this scholarship until I got that big fat hit I will have someday and I could give more.

But then, on Father’s Day this year, I remembered some of the encouraging advice that my Dad gave me years ago.

“Just start, Kenneth. Begin. A seed can’t grow until it is planted.”

I hope that my Dad’s advice and this gift can help encourage some of you.

To apply, click here.

 

One of the (many) things that worry me most about the Broadway shutdown.

I’ve gotta add one more to the list.

Yesterday, we revealed the top 3 things that are keeping TheaterMakers up at night. And I wasn’t shocked to see that your top 3 were the exact same as my top 3. (See those three things and how we’re going to start talking about how to address them here.)

But there’s something else that has me concerned that I have to add to the ever-growing pile of anxiety-producing issues we’re facing during the Broadway shutdown.

What’s going to happen to our workforce?

I’ll tell you what could happen. We could lose the very bright and creative personnel who we’re counting on to take Broadway to new heights.

The NY Times shared some of my nerve-iness in this article, where the writer talked about how so many NYC residents, especially the younger folks, fled NYC at the beginning the pandemic. And a huge subset of that group was from our very own arts and entertainment industry, since we laid off 78% of our workforce. 

And that doesn’t even count those who consider themselves part of our industry . . . actors, directors, writers, etc. . . who didn’t have a job at that time to be laid off from. (Even super successful artists aren’t employed from time to time, not to mention those waiting for their big breaks.)

So my concern is . . . not will these folks want to return, but will they be able to return?

With it becoming painfully clear that Broadway won’t be back until some time in (crossing fingers) early 2021, and development (readings, workshops, etc.) still in limbo, so many of our theatrical workforce could be out of work for up to a year.

And, as we get closer to the end of the unemployment stimulus package that put an extra $600 in so many people’s paychecks (it ends in July), the ability for these folks to make ends meet is going to be seriously challenged.

Oh, and it’s important to note that when I say workforce, I don’t only mean the Actors, Directors, Stagehands, Musicians, and more who make their living when the spotlights are on.

But what about those people who work in the offices who help keep those lights on?

For example, I was on a Zoom call last week with a bunch of marketing folks, many of whom were millennials.  These are the very groups that I’d usually predict would be the future of advertising and marketing on Broadway.

Now, I’m just praying that we can keep them around.

These doing-it-for-the-passion-not-the-pension peeps, along with the others who manage our shows, book our shows, agent our artists, etc. are not only going to need to find another way to make-a-living, but they are going to be offered other opportunities from industries that are able to get back to full speed, while we sit in neutral.

We have smart, bright, multi-talented people on and off the stage, and they’re going to be tempted to go.

We are going to lose some, no doubt. In fact, we already have. I’ve heard many a story about actors asking to be released from contracts at shows that were coming back. And some admin folks taking this opportunity to go work in the family business, etc.

And @#$% me . . . but I’ve had to lay off people at my own company, which is like sticking needles under your fingernails to an entrepreneur.

Ironically, now is the time when we need these folks the most. And I have even more concerns for the people of color in our industry. Now is the time when we must find MORE opportunities for them . . . at a time industry is constricting.

So what can we do in the short term to make sure our industry doesn’t lose the very people we need to build the new Broadway?

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Call your congresspeople and tell them to support the theater industry in any and all stimulus packages.
  • Donate to the Actors Fund which helps anyone in the theater industry weather difficult times.
  • Donate to the Dramatists Guild Foundation which helps writers specifically.
  • We must figure out how to safely get readings going again. Not immediately, of course, but if NYC can enter Stage III, there has to be a way to make socially distanced development work.
  • If you’ve got any reason to hire anyone here in the NYC area (or even for an online opportunity). . . hire a theater person.  (Oh, and have you seen all the theater people on Cameo?  This is a GREAT way to support them and super fun.)

An industry is only as strong as the people in it. And there is no doubt we’re going to have some attrition during this upcoming year. But we must do everything we can to limit our losses. We’ve got an opportunity to build a new Broadway. We just need the artistic and administrative minds to do it.

Are you a TheaterMaker (Artist or Admin) who has decided or is thinking about leaving the business because of shutdown?  Email me at ken@theproducersperspective.com. I want to hear your story . . . and I have a feeling others do too.

 

 

 

 

[Guest Blog] What We Can Learn From Korean Theatre on Theater Safety

There is an upside to opening up last.

As I wrote here, Broadway is actually in the enviable position of getting to watch what theater companies, sports franchises, and other mass gathering events are doing to make sure their patrons and company members are safe and comfortable as they open their doors again.

When I started to look around at which theaters to watch in this country, it was no surprise to me that Tom Gabbard, the CEO of the Blumenthal Arts in North Carolina and one of the leading Broadway touring presenters in the country, has been out in front of this issue for both his theaters in Charlotte and our entire industry.

I asked Tom to share his learnings with me and all of you, so you can get an idea of what the theaters outside of the city are planning . . . since I’d bet money that Broadway returns to Charlotte before it returns to New York City.

Take it away, Tom!

 

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Blumenthal Performing Arts manages/presents in 7 venues in Charlotte, as well as producing outdoor events. Many jobs are dependent on the shows and programs we offer, not just arts jobs, but those at restaurants, hotels, and bars.

With the suspension of all our shows, we’re focused on learning any strategies to help us safely re-
activate our venues and put people back to work.

On April 30, The Stage published a piece from producer Richard Jordan with the headline, “We can learn from Korea”. Richard explained that big shows in Seoul, like The Phantom of the Opera, continued to play throughout the crisis. The shows run without social distancing and major reductions in capacity.

Serin Kasif, VP of Production at Really Useful Group, who is on point with Phantom in Seoul, accepted my invitation for a group Zoom call. With only a few days’ notice, 90 peers from New York and the road logged on to learn from her.

She explained that while this is unprecedented for us, it’s not for the Koreans. They’ve been through similar crises before. Government, business and the public have learned to manage through these situations and avoid widespread lockdowns.

Serin explained that every region of Korea is different and requires different responses.
There are many elements to their success in Seoul, but here are my Top 10, all of which we hope to
replicate.

  1. Universal masking. Everyone wears a mask at all times. Exceptions are for those actors playing that day and wind musicians in the pit.
  2. A simple questionnaire completed by ticket-buyers, staff, and cast prior to entering the building each day.
  3. Strict control over backstage access.
  4. Temperature checks in the lobby and stage door.
  5. Medical grade cleaning of the venue twice a week.
  6. Daily disinfectant cleaning of props, backstage hallways, and dressing rooms.
  7. Hand sanitizing stations everywhere.
  8. Limited food and beverage service to avoid lifting your mask.
  9. Fast access to testing for all company members.
  10. Close cooperation with public health officials.

The call confirmed that we indeed had a lot to learn from Korea that could help us reemerge earlier,
safer, and stronger.

Beyond studying and embracing the Seoul model, in North Carolina we created NC Live, a consortium of major theaters, arenas, and amphitheaters to work directly with the state in developing safe, viable plans for our venues.

Our officials have been eager to hear from us. They have encouraged us to submit detailed plans for their review rather than wait for them to tell us what to do.

Even if it’s taking small steps first, like doing small outdoor concerts, it’s important that we find ways to move forward. Our communities have never needed us more.

 


Tom Gabbard has been CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts since 2003. The Blumenthal’s 110 employees manage six theaters in Charlotte, hosting over 1,000 performances annually, as well as extensive education programs. During his tenure, the Blumenthal became a Top 10 market for touring Broadway shows in North America.

A member of the Board of Governors of the Broadway League, he serves on the Executive and Finance Committees and has been a voter for Broadway’s Tony Awards since 1997.  In 2012 the League awarded him the Samuel J. L’Hommedieu Award for Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management.

He serves as co-chair of The Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards held annually on Broadway.

He has co-produced/invested in several Broadway, Off-Broadway, national tour, and West End productions including for Monty Python’s Spamalot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, La Cage aux Folles, RED, Pippin, Kinky Boots, The Color Purple Revival, Hello Dolly, Dear Evan HansenThe Band’s Visit, Oklahoma!, Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, Ain’t Too Proud, Frost/Nixon, Jagged Little Pill.

Quick Announcement re: our Fall Conference and a Favor . . .

Hey all . . . a quick announcement about our fourth annual TheaterMaker Super Conference . . .

First, rest assured, it’s still happening (on November 14th and 15th to be exact).

Second, like most live events in 2020, we’re going virtual.

I was initially disappointed when I had to make this decision, but I quickly realized how many benefits there were from holding a virtual theater conference.

Most significantly, a virtual conference will make it easier to unite TheaterMakers all over the world without you having to spend any time or dollars on travel.  And we’ll be able to bring you speakers from everywhere as well.

Since we’re still designing and planning the event (and since this is our first virtual event), I need to ask you a favor. I have two questions for you that will take two minutes, and will help in how we structure and curate the event.  Can you help us out?

You can answer the questions here.

Thank you in advance and stay tuned to this space for the announcement of the conference details.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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