COVID-19 closes Nineteenth Street Theatre; Civic Theatre of Allentown lays off its staff
The staff of Civic Theatre of Allentown has been laid off and the anchor of Allentown’s West End Theatre District is closed.
Civic Theatre has launched a campaign, #IAMCIVICTHEATRE, to raise funds for operating expenses to reopen the historic theater which produces plays and musicals and screens arthouse, foreign and classic films.
The layoffs and closing during its 92nd season of the Lehigh Valley art-deco landmark that spearheaded the 19th Street area business, restaurant and entertainment renaissance is apparently an unintended consequence of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 16 order for nonessential businesses to close and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 persons for 15 days as of March 16 to mitigate the community spread of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
Dr. Barry Glassman. 2nd Vice President of Civic Theatre of Allentown Board of Directors, confirmed the layoffs and Civic Theatre closing in a March 21 interview with The Press newspapers.
“We did what we needed to do to assure ourselves that when the world approaches normalcy again, we’re going to be in a position to continue our mission as well, if not better, than we were accomplishing it,” said Glassman in a phone interview.
Laid off are seven full-time Civic staff members, including the artistic team of William Sanders, Civic Theatre Artistic Director; Will Morris, Associate Artistic Director-Production Manager, and Sam Roff, Technical Director-Scenic Designer-Facilities Manager, as well as Shirley Kline, Managing Director; Lauren Matthews, Marketing and Community Engagement Director; Sue Sneeringer, Business Manager, and Darlene Mozeko, Box Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator.
Another full-time position at Civic, that of Director of Development is unfilled and interviews were underway at the time of closure after the resignation approximately one month ago of Robert Laconi.
Two part-time staff members are laid off: Suzanne Baltsar, Film Manager, and Christine Zondervan, Graphic Designer.
Approximately 12 to 15 hourly employees who sell tickets, staff concession stands and are responsible for other duties at Civic’s Nineteenth Street Theatre and Theatre514, are laid off.
“These people are truly part of our family. This has been truly painful,” said Glassman.
On March 12, Civic Theatre announced postponement of “Silence! The Musical.” It was to be a Lehigh Valley premiere. The musical, based on “The Silence of the Lambs” movie, March 13-21, is postponed until April 3-11 in Theater514.
“Here’s the sad part,” said Glassman. “‘Silence’ was sold out before the run, to the point, that we added two performances.”
Also postponed at Civic: “Frozen Jr.,” a musical based on the hit Disney animation feature film, April 2 - 5, to April 23 - 26, Main Stage, Nineteenth Street Theatre, featuring Civic Theatre School actors; the series, “Exhibition on Screen: Easter in Art,” April 9 - 12; “Monty Python Film Series,” April 11 - 25, and the musical-comedy, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” May 1-17, to June 5 - 21, Main Stage, Nineteenth Street Theatre, and “Tonys & Tapas,” a benefit, June 7. The play, “Significant Other,” June 19 - 28, Theatre514, is apparently canceled.
Glassman said Civic Theatre could reopen quickly if and when the nonessential business ban is lifted.
“Once we know that more than 10 people can meet, ‘Silence’ can be rehearsed and put up in a week,” Glassman said.
“The ‘Silence’ cast vowed to return.
“They [Civic staff] have to work five or six weeks before we can put on a show.
“We need to raise funds for operations,” said Glassman.
Glassman said laid-off Civic staffers can apply for unemployment compensation.
“It was in their best interest that we did this,” said Glassman of the Civic staff layoffs.
“We’re a professional community theater, but because of the professional part of that we carry an overhead that most community theaters don’t carry.
“We’re proud of how we’ve been able to raise those salaries to provide livable wages and to provide health-care without contributions from our staff.
”It’s one thing to have a gorgeously-restored theater [Nineteenth Street Theatre], but with it comes expenses.
“On top of that, we have another theater [Theatre514] and administrative offices, and with that comes expenses.
“Our staffing costs alone are higher than the budgets of most community theaters,” Glassman said.
The decision to lay off staff was made during March 17 and March 19 meetings by Civic Theatre’s Executive Committee, which included Maria DeFebo-Edwards, Civic Theatre Board President; JoAnn Wilchek Basist, 1st Vice President; Dr. Barry Glassman, 2nd Vice President; Michelle LaWall, 3rd Vice President; Douglas Downing, Treasurer; Abigail M. Martin, Secretary; Sharon Lee Glassman,
President Emeritus, and Joseph V. Kochanasz, former treasurer.
After the committee’s decision, the board of directors was informed.
The Civic board includes Aliette Abo, Dr. Robert D. Barraco, Frank Facchiano, Shirley Kline, Joseph V. Kochanasz, Marilyn Marles, Elizabeth Massa, Elizabeth Meade, Rebecca Price, Lauren Rabin, William Sanders and Ray Starner.
Glassman said on March 21, “The past 24 hours have been really busy with securing Civic’s buildings.
“There are a bunch of us who will be working to raise funds so that we’ll be ready to open when we can,” Glassman said.
Civic Company Member Kathleen Oswalt created the #IAMCIVICTHEATRE branding.
Civic is continuing its “Kapital for Kids” campaign to revamp the Nineteenth Street Theatre second-floor rehearsal studio; “Name a Seat “ campaign, and its “The Next Act: Setting the Stage for the Future” $5.5-million Capital Campaign, kicked off Nov. 23, 2016.
Following extensive restoration and renovation of Nineteenth Street Theatre, Civic reopened Oct. 12 - 28, 2018, with the musical, “Billy Elliot,” with music by Elton John, one month after the superstar kicked off his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” world tour kicked Sept. 8, 2018, at PPL Center, Allentown.
Civic Theater of Allentown, founded in 1927, moved to Nineteenth Street Theatre, a 1928 art deco movie palace, in 1957.
Information about Civic Theatre layoffs and closing was posted on social media.
A Civic Theater facebook page post March 20 stated: “Due to the forced and understandable closure of non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania, Civic Theatre’s entire staff has been laid off. As of today, March 20, 2020, we will be closed until further notice.
Continued the post: “The building may be closed but the spirit is alive and will always be alive. Theatre is connection and we are all connected. Sing. Dance. Laugh. Act. Fill your days with dreams and wishing and kindness. After 26 seasons, one thing I know for sure. We will rise. Onward. “The great work begins ... ” - William Sanders, Artistic Director
A March 18 facebook post was a photo of the Nineteenth Street Theatre marquee where the “Be Safe Stay Healthy” phrase was recently placed.
Stated a March 17 post: “The national emergency has greatly impacted our cash flow at a critical time of the year. Please continue to purchase your tickets and-or consider a donation to Civic Theatre. We thank you in advance and are always grateful for your support.”
William Sanders, Civic Artistic Director, posted March 14 on Civic’s facebook page: “This is so odd and difficult. This is normally our most productive time of year. I love our company, our students, our audience, our friends and I miss you all.
“Although our stage is dark, the light and love at Civic emanates from the memories and anticipation of performances past and future. Please be safe and healthy and ‘part of the human heart.’ We will be waiting for you when we return.”
March 12 is when Civic Theatre postponed “Silence! The Musical” with the following facebook post:
“Dear Civic Theatre Friends,
“After the announcement by the Broadway League, following the lead of other community organizations, and heeding the guidance of Governor Wolf, we have made the difficult decision to postpone all performances and put our film series on hiatus. The health and well-being of our actors, students, musicians, stage hands, production teams, staff, and of course our patrons are of utmost importance to us.
“The performances will be rescheduled before the end of June. Please check back on our website for information regarding the new dates. Most likely the tickets you hold will be honored at a date announced on the website. If that date is not agreeable, the exchange can be made through the Box Office.
“At this time, please refrain from contacting the Box Office as our staff will be inundated with organizational concerns and will be in contact with you as soon as possible. All tickets will be honored at a like performance or will be refunded or exchanged. We encourage you to attend the future performances, use your tickets, enjoy the theater, and help Civic Theatre to flourish.
“This will be a difficult time for all of us – financially and emotionally. We wish you the best and thank you for your continued support of our arthouse film series, education programs, and the theatre productions we make here at Civic.
Civic Theatre’s web site, under “Our Story,” states:
“As a professionally staffed, year-round, non-profit theater with roots in its community and excellence as its primary objective, Civic has proudly served the area for 90 years. We look forward to another 90 years of presenting locally produced first class theatre, showing the finest independent films, and bringing the best performing arts instruction possible to the young people of the Lehigh Valley.”
Information:: Civic Theater of Allentown, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; www.civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943