Goodspeed faces staff cuts, cancels some shows due to COVID-19 crisis

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East Haddam — Goodspeed Musicals is laying off five part-time workers and furloughing 77 other employees.

It is cutting back the number of this year’s shows at its Opera House in East Haddam from three to two.

It is canceling the performances that had been scheduled for 2020 at its Terris Theater in Chester, which were to include a new musical by novelist Stephen King and rocker John Mellencamp.

And it is all in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“South Pacific,” which had been scheduled to open at the Opera House on April 17, has been moved to the fall, and “Candide,” which had been set for autumn, has been canceled. “Anne of Green Gables” will run this summer, as previously planned.

Goodspeed was going to premiere a new series, The Worklight Series, at the Terris this year. Now, that launch will be moved to 2021.

Because of changes necessitated by COVID-19 closures, Goodspeed will face major financial challenges. Executive Director Michael Gennaro said that Goodspeed had to make cuts to its $11 million budget, and that also is impacting staffing.

Five people are being laid off, and 77 staff members will be on unpaid furlough for two time periods, from March 30 to April 5 and April 27 to May 4. During those stretches, the Goodspeed campus will be closed.

The other weeks in April will see some Goodspeed employees working remotely with reduced hours and pay, while others will remain on furlough.

Gennaro said those were the most difficult decisions to make because they were about Goodspeed’s “most precious asset — our people.”

Goodspeed is like many nonprofit theaters facing hard choices because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Discussing the pandemic, Gennaro said, “It’s heartbreaking to watch what's going on across the country and the world. The thing that’s maybe most difficult is just keeping up morale and being supportive of each other and understanding there are people in a lot worse situations than we’re in and trying to make the best of it, but it’s just not going to be easy. But I believe firmly that we’re resilient enough to come out on the other side. It's going to affect everybody and every organization, not just in the theater world, which is just a small part of what’s going on.”

He noted that one good thing that has happened is “just the support among the other theaters, and colleagues are sharing information and trying to be helpful in any way we can.”

The decisions on shows

Gennaro said Goodspeed canceled The Worklight Series because that would amount to about a $200,000 savings.

“Clearly, the more money I can save to mitigate pending losses we will have, the better, and the more money I can give to my staff and/or keep them on health coverage, which is what’s most important right now, (the better),” he said.

The series was to have featured shows done as staged readings, to give writers and composers more of a chance to rework the pieces and try different versions in front of audiences during the development process. That would have been a switch from the more fully produced performances of recent years.

The biggest news when the series was announced was that it would feature a musical by King and Mellencamp, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.” The other two musicals in the series were to be “Johnny & the Devil's Box” by Douglas Waterbury-Tieman and “Bhangin’ It” by Mike Lew, Rehana Lew Mirza and Sam Willmott.

Gennaro said that when audiences are allowed to congregate again, the theater might add, say, weekendlong performances at the Terris similar to “Elvis My Way,” a show that Goodspeed had planned to bring in for a March 13-15 run before coronavirus precautions caused its cancellation.

As for the productions at the Opera House, Goodspeed realized there wouldn't be enough time to produce a spring musical, based on current COVID-19 projections. Gennaro said that the sets for “South Pacific” were close to being finished, and work had begun on “Anne of Green Gables.” The decision was made to cancel “Candide,” for which the sets hadn’t been started. There were significant savings in making that move, he said. The theater does, however, hope to produce “Candide” in the future.

While things could change, Gennaro said the creative team and cast of “South Pacific” have all indicated they would be part of the production when it takes place in the fall.

Donating unused tickets 

Goodspeed also is pointing out that patrons who would like to help can donate their unused tickets for “Candide” and The Worklight Series as tax-deductible gifts to support Goodspeed.

Goodspeed will contact all ticket holders, but might take longer than usual because of the closures and reduced hours.

Gennaro said, “As we prepare ourselves for the uncertain future, we are bolstered by the support and faith of our Goodspeed family. Knowing that so many care about Goodspeed and our staff makes our burden a little bit lighter. Together we will get through this and together we will celebrate happier times at Goodspeed in the very near future.”

k.dorsey@theday.com

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