Just before the shelter-in-place order, I stopped by the office to gather a few things. The office was empty, stacks of tickets waiting to go out to subscribers, sun streaming in through the rehearsal hall windows, and on the box office counter: our summer brochure with bold letters on the front declaring “If you haven’t done Cal Shakes you haven’t done summer.” It made me smile.
And so it is with heavy heart that Sarah and I write you now on behalf of Cal Shakes and our Board of Trustees. Out of utmost concern for the safety and well-being of our staff, artists, audience, and community, Cal Shakes will be canceling our 2020 season and focusing our energies towards weathering the current crisis and returning for our 2021 season. This may seem like an extraordinary decision, but taking into account the incredible uncertainty of this moment, the cost of producing a season at the Bruns (of which ticket sales only account for a third of), the current and long-term disruption in fundraising, and our desire to participate fully in current and future civic actions intended to flatten the curve, we feel this is our best course of action.
There are of course many implications to this choice. Most immediate is the impossible decision to furlough 65% of our staff; who we have guaranteed uninterrupted full benefits at least through the end of April. The remaining essential staff will be working at reduced hours to ensure continued operations of our beloved organization. To say nothing of the substantial loss of work for many of our local artists and arts workers, teaching artists and seasonal staff, and (for we are not the only ones) the many other struggling arts organizations, small businesses, restaurants—the very heart and soul of our civic life.
This past week, I’ve thought about the amazing stories we’ve shared through the years. And I’ve mourned the ones we won’t. But I’ve also thought a lot about our practice—which is not (has never been and can no longer be) just plays, but is the very human act of being in and holding each other’s company. And in this period of social distancing, I suspect we all feel the loss of that, of human touch, of human connection. The work of the theater is to connect people in intimate, humane, compassionate, alive ways; through story, through creative expression, through extraordinary and ordinary acts of making. So through all this uncertainty and all this change, we commit to leading through our values of radical inclusion even in times of isolation, to use all the tools we have as theater artists to reimagine Cal Shakes in this unprecedented moment and emerge on the other side a different kind of institution—but one as committed as ever to a more just and compassionate society, to the common good.
The impact of the cancellation of the season on our financial health is significant. Your help is needed to sustain our operations through this critical moment and we hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation of any amount.
In the next weeks and months we will be inviting you to connect: with our artists and with each other. From Virtual Forums to intimate phone calls, from Philippa’s beloved lectures to WeRise’s podcast chronicling our year-long journey though the principles of Transformative Justice, from master classes by local artists to the words of William Shakespeare spoken by beloved and familiar old friends.
And last, but never ever least, our theater. We see the Bruns Amphitheater as a community resource—as common ground. As such, if the opportunity presents itself, we hope to make it available so we might gather this summer in the open air—our team is imagining a dynamic assortment of ways we might activate our home to meet (safely and creatively) the needs and desires of our patrons, our schools, our community partners, and you.
“If you haven’t done Cal Shakes you haven’t done summer.”
As a summer theater, we’ve grown accustomed to the passage of things. Seasons pass, plays pass, and when this too has passed, we’ll find ourselves changed by it. But the desire to gather, to be in community, to share in each other’s company, that will never be diminished; and we hope to be here to welcome you back to the Bruns—to summer—with open arms.
Wishing you health and peace and human kindness,
Eric Ting, Artistic Director
Sarah Williams, Managing Director