When the curtain goes up, will audiences return to NJ theaters?
How will New Jersey theaters get patrons back into seats when live performances are permitted again in the Garden State? And, an even more grave consideration, can all of them survive long enough without audiences to be able to have a re-opening night?
It's still too early for specific answers to some of those questions, but the New Jersey Theatre Alliance is holding weekly conference calls and check-ins with its 30 member theaters, spread throughout 12 New Jersey counties, to share ideas and resources.
Many theaters' seasonal schedules end in June, and for those theaters, all of their remaining performances have been canceled. John McEwen, NJTA executive director, said his organization has forgiven member dues for the year but has still been able to prop up its theaters in multiple ways.
"We've been in the position to provide not only financial support to our theaters, but also a platform for them to share," McEwen said.
As we mentioned in a recent "What's So Great About the Garden State," theaters are tapping into their workers' inherent creativity in bringing classes and special events online, and digging through the archives for rare footage and production photos. NJTA is helping to promote those new endeavors through its social media channels.
But theaters are also finding it increasingly difficult to keep those creative employees on the payroll. To remedy that, NJTA has started a worker fund for which applications are already being taken, with grants set to be disbursed by the end of this month.
"Those employees and contractors have especially been hit hard, so we set up a theater relief fund so that we could provide some short-term financial relief," McEwen said.
All NJTA member theaters are eligible for small business loans and grants through the federal stimulus package, but even so they are expecting — and planning for — both short- and long-term impacts.
"Many of our theaters are doing their budgets for next year, and they're doing two and three and four different scenarios," McEwen said, adding that the theaters "might only have, maybe, two months of cash on hand to continue operating. They really do rely on their ticket income."
In lieu of being able to see a show right now, McEwen said the best thing theater patrons can do is to consider taking any refunded money from tickets to canceled performances and repurposing it as a donation to a closed theatre.
For more information, go to njtheatrealliance.org.