The most common question people ask President and CEO Troy Siebels these days is a tentative “…so how are you guys doing?” with a pretty clear expectation that the answer will be dismal. At The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, ticket sales and fees account for 85% of our nonprofit’s earned revenue, and 100% of event related revenue dried up overnight. We’re also a young organization without an endowment to fall back upon. Between mid-March and an anticipated reopening in October, more than $5 million will be lost in ticket sales, a big hit to the bottom line.
“We have received a great deal of support from our audiences and members, though,” Siebels said, “as well as funding from the federal government’s CARES Act. It’s a pretty hard hit, but we are resilient and will recover from this crisis stronger.”
Read on for a special Q&A with Siebels in which he reflects on the importance of the arts while prioritizing public safety.
How have recent events affected your perspective about why the arts are important?
Finding the world of theatre gave me a sense of belonging and purpose when I was young, and made me who I am today. At age 12, my son is taking theatre classes through our conservatory and performing in shows at his school and elsewhere. As a result, I see him gaining confidence, self-awareness and team-building skills each month. The performing arts are transformational and open our eyes to new perspectives every day.
On a larger scale, the worldwide theatre community demonstrates amazing resiliency and creativity during this pandemic that has shuttered all of our major institutions. The internet is brimming with examples of artists sharing their performances virtually. Some theatre companies have completed a run of performances by streaming video of their last live show, or shared video of past shows. Those are great ways to keep our audiences engaged and to bridge this terrible gap when we must keep our doors closed, but to accept them as the “new normal” would be to lose the thing that makes our art form unique, powerful and relevant.
The performing arts are about bringing people together for shared experiences. The “live-ness” of the performance is an integral piece of its power. The energy and responses from a live audience change the performance on stage in a very real and material way. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the polarization that has taken hold of our world, and we need that social connection now more than ever if we are to move beyond it.
The pandemic has an impact on everyone, particularly those cultural nonprofits whose business model depends on bringing together crowds for a shared experience. For those that are able to help, what is the best way?
This pandemic has impacted everyone, and there are many people with uncertainty about where the money will come from for next month’s rent bill or groceries. I am so grateful that, even against that backdrop, so many of our audience members donated the value of their tickets to shows that were cancelled this spring to ensure the long-term survival of our theatre. With those donations, we created The Hanover Theatre COVID-19 Resiliency Fund to help us bridge this gap. Then on May 1, our board of directors stepped up in a big way and came together to pledge a generous dollar-for-dollar match to all contributions through June 30, up to $60,000. That means if you are able to make a contribution at any level, its impact will be doubled and help us bridge the gap until we can come together again.
We know that many people are nervous about committing to events in the future. In the past, sporting events, concerts and live performances have had strict exchange and refund policies. In a new era where we want to discourage people who are ill from going out in public, are tours and artists willing to relax their guarantees? How are we looking to make our audiences comfortable and confident when they return to one of our events?
Many of our events are presented by outside promoters, all of whom are revising their own policies around refunds and exchanges, so there are a lot of moving pieces. We have worked hard to build relationships with the more than 200,000 theatregoers who come through our door each year, and we will not ask them to choose between their own safety and enjoying a performance. We will work with those outside promoters to give our audiences options, and to be transparent about those options.
We must and will prioritize the health and safety of our audience, and when our doors do open again, we will be following an aggressive set of cleaning and disinfecting protocols, as well as rethinking our ticketing and lobbies to provide for a more socially-distanced and “touchless” visit.