The Public Theater, one of America’s most prestigious and successful nonprofit theaters, laid off 19 percent of its staff on Thursday as the financial crisis swept across the scene.
The move resulted in a 13% job cut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and a 10% job cut at the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles, leaving about 50 people out of work.
Headquartered in Lower Manhattan and performing mostly off-Broadway, The Public is undoubtedly a behemoth of non-profit theater, the birthplace of “A Chorus Line” and “Hamilton.” Land, founder and host of Free Shakespeare in the Park. It has become a creative anchor for some of the country’s most influential playwrights.
However, theaters, like many others, are suffering from the combined effects of declining revenues and rising costs.
“The economic headwinds that are hitting American theaters are hitting us,” said Oscar Eustice, the theater’s artistic director, in an interview. “Our viewership is down about 30 percent, our spending is up 30 to 45 percent, and our donor base remains the same. There will be a huge budget shortfall.”
Eustis said Public has no intention of canceling any programs beyond its previous decision to indefinitely suspend its annual experimental program, Under the Radar Festival.
But in the short term, Eustis said the public will need to reduce the amount of theater showings. The next season will see five shows at Astor Placeville, down from 11 in the last full season before the coronavirus pandemic, he said. . The traditional Shakespeare in the Park program will also not take place next year as its home, the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, undergoes long-planned renovations, but Eustis said the company will be replaced. He said he was looking for ways to present Shakespeare’s works in performances. The location will be decided next summer.
The theater’s executive director, Patrick Willingham, said the job cuts would extend across the company’s operations. “There are setbacks at every sector and at every level,” he said.
Public currently has about 246 full-time positions, Willingham said. The company is laying off employees in 2021 as it seeks to recover from its theater closures due to the pandemic, and has also furloughed employees in the midst of the pandemic. Willingham said the need to cut spending had been debated internally for some time, so this week’s layoffs were no surprise to staff. “We’ve been really transparent with our employees over the past year,” he said. “We were very clear that we had to make cuts.”
Willingham said the public’s annual budget next fiscal year will be about $50 million, down from about $60 million before the coronavirus pandemic. He added that thanks to the federal Pandemic Relief Fund and royalties from “Hamilton,” the theater expects to be financially deficit-free in the current fiscal year, which ends next month, or next. “We’re making decisions that really try to get ahead of what we’re seeing as a national trend, so that we can come up with a reliable and sustainable model year after year,” Willingham said. said.
Eustis, one of the highest-paid artistic directors in the field, said he would cut his salary by an unspecified amount — “I’m going to take a big pay cut,” he said — – ‘I said no one else would and shouldn’t do that’ is a pay cut.
He said Public continues to work on its Public Works program, which hosts professional musical pageants of adaptations of classic works by amateur performers, and its mobile units, which perform Shakespeare at various locations around the city and beyond. added. prisons and community centers;
Mr Eustis said the cuts were “absolutely necessary to protect the safety and future of our people” but also “very sad and difficult”. But with some theaters closed as a result of financial problems, the public is not at such risk now, Eustis said.
“This is not an existential crisis,” he said. “We are taking steps that mean that the existence and future of our people are not threatened.