The theater has always been the place we go to in times of trouble. Sitting in the dark with our fellow humans, experiencing stories about the people we share the world with, provides us with insight, distraction, a sense of community and at times a much-needed laugh.
So, the closing of theaters all across Houston due to coronavirus worries has left theater lovers not only wondering when they'll be able to feel that comfort again, but worried if it will even be there at all once this pandemic is over.
How will companies survive without revenue from productions? How will actors pay their rent and buy groceries? And what can we as patrons do to help?
Even before theaters shut down, they were anticipating financial issues.
Cancel, no questions asked, many said. Instead, consider donating your ticket value back to the theater. Those planning on attending a show later in the run were also asked to take the value of the future ticket and donate it back to the company.
It’s one way patrons can show support. Every theater in Houston has the ability to accept a donation, online or otherwise. Simply pick the company (or companies) you’re fond of and they’ll be ever so grateful for your monetary support.
Additionally, if the theater is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, the donation is tax-deductible. So be sure to ask the company if a tax receipt is available.
Ensuring the health of companies is by extension helping theater actors, directors, and design teams, etc., who will need places to work once we're allowed to gather together once more. In the short term, however, many of our beloved artists are going to struggle to make ends meet.
The federal government is stepping in to assist. Recognizing the coronavirus impact on employees/contract workers affected by loss of employment (including theater professionals), The U.S. Department of Labor has announced new guidance outlining flexibilities that states have in administering their unemployment insurance programs.
On Monday, the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) put out a memo outlining that “In Texas, this means those artists and performers affected by the outbreak may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), which provides unemployment benefits for individuals as a direct result of COVID-19.”
The HAA went on to detail which artists are eligible for relief::
This is not limited to those employed by a company; self-employed artists are also eligible. You need only have a contract, 1099, or W-2.
You must apply for regular unemployment benefits before you can receive DUA (even if you know you are not eligible for regular UI).
Eligibility includes but is not limited to:
if you were scheduled to start work but the job no longer exists or
you can no longer reach the new job; you live, work in, or travel through the disaster area; or your place of employment was damaged or closed.
Waiting for government assistance during this time may not be enough for some artists, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck and have little if any savings to fall back on. It’s in this spirit that Prague Shakespeare Company (a company that programs regularly at Main Street Theater) has decided to take matters into their own hands and created the PSC Artist Relief Fund, with 100 percent of the benefits going to company artists.
“Prague Shakespeare Company as an organization is also likely to be under incredible strain in the coming days as more programs and performances are canceled, financial resources and opportunities dry up,” says Guy Roberts, Artistic Director, Prague Shakespeare Company.
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"However, there is no PSC without our Artists! They and their work is [sic) the backbone that makes us strong. Their creative juices are the fuel that inspires us all. We want this current situation to make them even stronger, more creative, and more imaginative – ready to gift their creative energies again to the world when we all emerge.”
Donations to the PSC Artist Relief Fund may be made here to pragueshakespeare.com.
We've yet to see this type of company-led artist relief program in Houston or even individual artist requests for donations. But it's likely that both are coming.
If/when they do, please remember the artists who have given us so much pleasure over the years and, if you can, donate to ensure that these talented men and women can continue producing the theater that makes Houston the creative city we love.