Hartford Business Journal

April 6, 2020 — Women in Business

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12 Hartford Business Journal • April 6, 2020 • www.HartfordBusiness.com By Frank Rizzo Special to the Hartford Business Journal "G etting Sauced with Rob" Rug- giero and "Scene and Heard" with Melia Bensussen are two virtual ways TheaterWorks Hartford and Hartford Stage are staying en- gaged with au- diences via their artistic leaders — and are just the latest online activities these not-for-profit theaters hope will generate support during the uncertain weeks, and perhaps months, ahead. With the initial shock subsiding of having to cancel springtime pro- gramming and fundraising events because of the coronavirus pan- demic, Hartford's theater executives, many of whom have had to make dra- matic staff and payroll cuts in recent weeks, are now looking ahead and devising multiple plans for survival. This includes engaging with audiences in new ways in the hopes it will bolster financial support in what is sure to be a challenging eco- nomic and social landscape. A recent Greater Hartford Arts Council survey found that Hartford's "Big Four" arts groups — The Bush- nell, Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks and Hartford Symphony Orchestra — stand to lose a combined $6.6 million if the coronavirus shuts down production for three months. Among the planned offer- ings are vir- tual personal and/or playful interactions with theater personalities. For exam- ple, Ruggiero, TheaterWorks' producing artistic direc- tor, will make his family's tomato sauce recipe while talking with other theater pals online. Other plans include online silent auc- tions, acting and educational classes, and presentations of excerpts from past productions. TheaterWorks is working to get online its hit production of the musical "Next To Normal," along with a conversation with its Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt. It wouldn't be a pay-for-play event but rather a fundraising effort. "We're going to find out what works online in ways that could be really creative, imaginative and really engaging for our audiences to participate," says Cynthia Rider, Hartford Stage's managing direc- tor. "We've been talking about more participatory pro- gramming, so what does that mean in ways that feel really fun? I think we're going to find some [programming] that works and some that doesn't, but that's OK, too. We're experimenting." The shutdown of live productions is forcing theaters to think in different ways to connect with audiences — and each other. Con- versations among theater leaders are now more frequent. "We've always had a lovely part- nership with Hartford Stage but now it's elevated because of what's happening," says Ruggiero. "We are now looking at ways our two institutions can support each other more; for instance, in actor housing or in scenery building, stuff like that. We're learning lessons from this that will actually be helpful when we're on the other side of things." All about cash flow But the uncertainty of when that other side will emerge is what makes this unlike other financial crises theaters have faced, including 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy. The decline in ticket revenues from the sudden production stoppage also exposed not-for- profit arts groups' tenuous cash-flow positions. Without those expected revenues it only takes a matter of weeks before they can't meet payroll. "Most of the theaters our size live very close to the edge all the time," says Rider. "There's not a lot of saving for a rainy day. You're just trying to get by. In an emergency you're very thin." On March 20, Hartford Stage slashed its staff of more than 80 people by 70 percent, cutting 50 jobs with furloughs and eliminating eight positions entirely. It expects to take a $1.2 million loss from the premature Lost Art Theaters plot survival strategies as coronavirus plagues their finances ARTS BIZ Frank Rizzo TheaterWorks' Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero is developing creative, "virtual" ways to engage his audience and donors amid the coronavirus shutdown. Financial Hit According to a recent Greater Hartford Arts Council survey, Hartford's "Big Four" arts institutions project they will lose an increasing amount of money the longer the coronavirus shuts down production. Here are their combined loss estimates. Length of shutdown Estimated loss 30 days $1,885,235 60 days $3,814,153 90 days $6,589,906 Source: Greater Hartford Arts Council PHOTO | HBJ FILE Cynthia Rider, Managing Director, Hartford Stage

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