Broadway musical Beetlejuice announced last week it would not reopen at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre after venues return from lockdown – another high-profile entertainment casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.
Its run at the Winter Garden had been scheduled to end on June 7 and was effectively ended by the Broadway League’s announcement that theatres would remain dark until that date.
A 2021 national tour will continue and producers are considering a move to another Broadway venue but post-coronavirus it may not happen. So that means that currently it played its last Broadway performance on March 11, 2020.
Like many productions around the world, Beetlejuice faces the difficult process of closure. It’s important not to underestimate the skill and complexities of this in theatre producing.
How you close a show is as important as how you open one. This is no different at any scale of production. Across sectors during this unprecedented crisis, producers have demonstrated the dexterity and sensitivity needed to handle the process well.
It’s lonely out there for many at the moment. What a lot of producers are doing is hiding a broken heart – we are masters at doing this – while at the same time, I’ve seen a level of professionalism in the way that shows have closed and the complexities involved. Always vital within this process is clear leadership and communication by the producer with everyone; from cast and creatives, to investors and crew.
One of the most impressive parts of the delivery within this unique situation has been the speed that everything had to happen, especially within the get-out of productions.
As tough as it may be for an actor or backstage worker on one of these productions to be out of work suddenly, there is still the possibility that one day they can hopefully go and audition or find another backstage position again. For many producers, the financial losses they will have sustained may make it impossible to ever bounce back.
My sincere hope is that those individuals will not simply be forgotten about when everyone gets back to business and focus moves swiftly on to the next productions – many who have worked so hard deserve much more than that.
With productions abruptly shutting down, many will feel robbed of not getting the chance to say a proper goodbye to their show. Shows including the West End production of Waitress, or Broadway’s Beetlejuice, Hangmen and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have already announced that they will not reopen post-coronavirus. With the likelihood that, the longer this lockdown continues, others will join them, there is a tremendous sense of loss being felt by all those involved.
On March 16, no one in the West End company of Waitress would have realised that evening would be the last time they’d ever perform it at the Adelphi Theatre. Even when a show flops, it usually happens over a period of weeks, which at least gives some time to prepare mentally and emotionally for the end.
At Waitress, the company expected the West End run to end officially on July 4. Its sudden closure will have given them no time to process properly. Perhaps one small consolation is that both Waitress and Beetlejuice had decent runs and will tour.
A far harder pill to swallow is perhaps for those involved with the Broadway productions of Hangmen and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which had played only a handful of preview performances before their closures.
The months, and sometimes years, spent preparing a production can be devastating enough when a show quickly flops, but in these instances neither show ever had the chance to be widely seen or reviewed.
To survive as a producer, you must be an optimist – it is what will get you through the challenges, even when optimism may seem in short supply. This is alongside a multitude of other strong skills such as passion, belief, a business and creative sense and, perhaps most crucial of all, not going bankrupt in the process.
We must rightly remain optimistic. Our industry is proven to be resilient and good at moving forward. But equally, when we are all back and thinking about ‘the next show’, it’s crucial that we do not forget how much many will have lost.
Richard Jordan is a producer and regular columnist for The Stage. Read his latest column every Thursday at thestage.co.uk/author/richard-jordan