By Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Some art demands you be in the room. Theatre and visual art certainly, and while we can listen to brilliant recordings of orchestral music; the thrill of the concert hall still commands attention.
And this past week, all of that stopped…almost. Dramatic measures have been taken by city and state governments and while neither Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear or Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer placed outright bans on public assembly, their recommendations have resulted in a pattern of postponement or cancellation for performances across the Louisville Metro area. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb ordered a restriction on public events with an attendance of 250 or more. Universities and colleges have suspended classes for on-line options, which means their galleries are closed and performances have been canceled. Not all private art galleries have formally closed, although Pyro Gallery in Louisville has announced it is shuttered “until further notice.” Margaret Archambault of Tim Faulkner Gallery offered this wisdom on Facebook: “Being as how you’re not allowed to touch anything in an art gallery, it seems the safest place to go!”
Announced as Postponed or Canceled:
All but the final production of the 44th Humana Festival of New American Plays
La Cage aux Folles from Pandora Productions
Little Women, the Musical from TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
My Old Kentucky Murder Mystery from WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater
Gasping Whiteness from Theatre 
Prelude to a Kiss from Clarksville Little Theatre
Murder Ballad from Acting Against Cancer
Good Grief from Looking for Lilith Theatre Company
Kentucky! Volume 1 from the Louisville Ballet
A Streetcar Named Desire from Commonwealth Theatre Center
Anastasia from PNC Broadway in Louisville
Saturday Night Fever from Derby Dinner Playhouse
Grey Gardens from The Chicken Coop Theatre
Robin Hood, a youth opera from Kentucky Opera
Still scheduled to open as of press time:
March 27: Women Playing Hamlet from Little Colonel Playhouse
March 28: A Tribute to ABBA from the Louisville Orchestra
April 2: Dragons Love Tacos from Stage One Family Theatre
Carnagie Center for Art & History in New Albany exhibits will be open but other programs are suspended.
Closed Until Further Notice:
University of Louisville galleries
Huff Gallery at Spalding University
McGrath Gallery at Bellarmine University
Arguably the most significant loss is the 44th Humana Festival of New American Plays, which had yet to open three of the five productions and had not reached the crucial critics weekend, which draws an international audience of theatre professionals and a sizable economic influx to downtown Louisville.
“Actors Theatre has canceled the performances and special events associated with the Humana Festival through April 12,” explains Director of Communications Elizabeth Greenfield. “We hope to present Grace, by Nolan Williams, Jr., should the recommendation against public gathering be complete, April 7-12. But we will not host any Encore Weekend events.”
Other companies explain their decisions to suspend public performances as part of a larger and more sustained commitment to the community.
Theatre ’s production of Will MacAdams’ Gasping Whiteness was being mounted in a living room seating just over 20 people, a much more intimate circumstance than most theatre venues. “We almost postponed a day earlier than we did,” states Steve Moulds,  Co-Artistic Director “but rationalized it because, performing in a living room, our audience size was going to be small. But the real turning point was Gov. Beshear encouraging people to stay home from church. That was when we knew what we had to do.”
And Co-Artistic Director Diana Grisanti offered this to Arts-Louisville: “Because Gasping Whiteness is so much about community — and built on group dialogue — it felt wrong to perform it at a time when being in community is anxiety-inducing. Once we made the decision, we both felt an enormous sense of relief.”
Louisville Ballet released this statement from Artistic Managing Director Robert Curan: “As our world faces an unprecedented viral outbreak, we wish to communicate our great hope that the wonderful community of Louisville continues to support one another in these fearful and uncertain times. We believe in the strength and brotherhood of this city, and Louisville Ballet can and will be part of the solution to this global crisis.”
Tina Jo Wallace of Derby Dinner Playhouse outlined some of the efforts that go into implementing these decisions. “As you can imagine, this has been an extremely difficult time for everyone. We value our loyal patrons, employees, and staff and want to be responsible citizens.”
“We have been following the situation for weeks, coming up with new protocols to protect our customers as we wanted to remain open. Thursday morning we had decided to continue with the shows and posted as much to our patrons. Unfortunately, by the end of the day, with the governor’s recommendation of no gathering of 250 or more, we had to reevaluate.”
“Derby Dinner is currently not performing through Monday evening March 16th. We will be meeting Monday morning to reevaluate and decide the next steps for the week. We will continue to do so on a weekly basis through this. As you know, canceling even one performance is a logistical difficulty, and a hardship to our business and employees, not to mention a huge disappointment to our audience. In the last 36 hours, we have tried to reach 3000 patrons who had tickets for the 7 canceled performances”
So companies are scrambling with issues of communication to patrons, but what of the question of whether cast and crews can be kept in place when productions are delayed indefinitely? Humana plays are cast largely from out-of-town, making it highly unlikely that productions could be repositioned on the calendar. Smaller companies with local talent can perhaps be more nimble but face the same challenges.
Moulds outlined the  approach: “We’d certainly like to keep the same cast and crew. But that’s a problem for another day. We made sure everyone got compensated for their work thus far, even if it couldn’t be at the full amount.”
Which raises the problem of economic impact. Kentucky Shakespeare’s Matt Wallace called for individuals to view this as an opportunity for making financial donations to local groups that will have invested limited resources counting on box office returns that may never happen.
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company postponed not just its production of Good Grief but also was forced to suspend educational programs that employ teaching artists to work in local schools. The company launched an Emergency Relief Fund to provide financial assistance for artists under contract to LFL who will otherwise lose income.
“These artists do not get paid sick leave and cannot do their work from home. While we will make every attempt to reschedule missed classes and performances, it may not be possible to reschedule all classes. However, Looking for Lilith’s Board of Directors has committed to honoring all contracts that we have made this spring to independent artists regardless of whether each class or performance can be rescheduled. While this may be a hardship for the organization, we feel it is our moral obligation to care for the well-being of the artists who choose to work with us during this international crisis.”
Most of these decisions are predicated on the belief, or perhaps hope is a better word, that “social distancing” will not be considered necessary after a period of 30 days have passed. Only time will tell.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.
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