Arts & COVID-19: MCT cancels national tour
MCT lays off 66 actors/directors, cancels 252 residencies
By Kristi Niemeyer
As the world knows by now, the COVID-19 virus is unfolding in ways that are both rapid and unprecedented, and the arts world is certainly not immune.
Missoula Children’s Theatre, an organization with roots grounded in Montana and branches that spread across the nation and around the world, was hit particularly hard.
The staff at the Missoula-based theatre met March 13 to assess the unfolding public health crisis, and decided to cancel the last five shows of “The Spitfire Grill,” a community theatre production, as well as an upcoming children’s day camp, “Beauty Lou and the Country Beast,” that had 66 kids enrolled.
“There were no cases in Montana when we went into the meeting, and by the time we got out, there were five,” says Terri Elander, MCT’s International and Public Relations director.
By Monday, March 16, schools were closing in Montana and nationwide. In the face of school closures, and strict guidelines coming from the state and federal level, MCT cancelled 254 tour residencies through May 20 and was forced to lay off 66 actors.
“It’s pretty devastating for all of us right now,” says Elander. “But the tendency, the statistics and the wisdom we’re hearing is that it may get worse.”
The estimated economic hit to MCT is $1.5 million in lost revenue, and much more if the summer tour to military bases around the world is cancelled.
In the immediate future, says Elander, “13,000 children won’t be able to be in a production that many look forward to for the entire year.”
Meanwhile MCT’s two-person teams of actors/directors, spread out across the United States, are trying to find their way home.
MCT veteran Brandon Price posted a note on Facebook’s Tour Actor/Director (TAD) alumni page Sunday morning, March 15: “How is MCT doing with all this? Any teams stuck out there? Anything we can do to lend a hand?”
By March 17, more than 120 offers of help and support had rolled in:
“Which team of the Emperors New Clothes is coming to Columbia, MO? TAD veteran here from 1994-95 with a kiddo to audition and some free drinks and food for the team! Let me know!! Xoxo” (Jennifer)
“Atlanta here, reach out if you need connection/help/anything. “ (Emma)
“Three extra rooms, beds, food, and parking available in Arkansas. Close to Dallas/Shreveport/Little Rock. And tons of board games to keep us occupied if you need to social distance with us here for a bit.” (Brittany)
“Omaha, NE smack dab in the middle of the country if you need a place on the way through! My dog, Dobby, always welcomes more hands to sneak him treats!” (Bridget)
“I didn't see any teams in or near Wisconsin, but if anyone finds themselves in the area, they have a friend and safe place here – we have cheese to spare.” (Bailie)
“We have two spare rooms in San Jose, CA. My husband and I are both former TADs and are now having to teach middle school theatre online. We'll trade you room and board for some fun ideas and guest lecturing!” (Kristin)
“Kansas City KS/MO! Lots of TP and two golden retrievers – if anyone needs help reach out!” (Kathleen)
In preparation for the summer tour, MCT has hired 17 two-person teams to take the company’s whimsical productions to kids in hundreds of communities across North America and to military bases in the U.S. and around the world, including South Korea, Japan, Italy and Bahrain.
“Typically this time of year we’re looking for between 80 and 90 actors,” Elander says. “We’re being cautious.”
And yet, she adds, it’s times like this when artists are most important. “People need the arts in times of crisis – to uplift our spirits, to bring us joy and a sense of community.”
For more on the challenges facing Montana arts organizations, see pages 6-7.
Caption: An MCT production of “Hansel and Gretel” – one of many touring shows now cancelled through May. (A2 Photography)