In 2020, The Gateway was rearing up for a fabulous summer season with huge musicals like Newsies and Evita when the pandemic shuttered all performing arts venues in the country. Now, as vaccines become more readily available, Paul Allan, The Gateway’s executive artistic director, talks with Dan’s Papers about the potential of a summer season, with a small-scale show in the works and one of last season’s surefire hits (Newsies, of course), being a possible late-summer treat.
Summer is fast approaching and while it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen in the next couple of months, you did have a season planned last year, so we’d love to get an update on what The Gateway is planning for its summer 2021 season.
I think because, like you said, we’re still waiting for further guidance regarding the reopening guidelines, as you know, the governor released 100 people maximum in venues, and 100 people really isn’t enough people to do a full musical. Plus, there’s still all the issues with actors on stage and the actors union and musicians, and there’s still a lot of factors that haven’t been really worked out yet. We’re looking, because it does seem like [conditions] are improving quickly.
By the time we get to June or July, I think things are going to feel a lot different, so we’re proceeding ahead as if there’s going to be more good news and more freedoms as people start to feel better about going out. We’re definitely planning on a full musical in August, possibly a smaller, full musical in July, and we may open with something even a little bit more… I guess small again. We’re looking at a show called Songs for a New World.
So would you say that big shows like Evita are out for the moment?
We haven’t really figured it out yet. We’re just keeping a lot of options open, if things improve faster than everyone thinks… It’s just too soon to know, but I think the important thing is we’re kind of ready to make a move in any direction, so we’re certainly not making the decision.
You’ve been with the theater really your whole life, and this past year there must have been so much pressure to stay afloat. Talk about your experience as you’ve fought to keep The Gateway open.
Well, I think in the beginning, it was a little scary when it first started. For a while we weren’t allowed to go to our place of work, so as soon as that restriction lifted, I began to at least come over to the office every day and just feel like, “Hey, I’m gonna get this business running again. What are we doing here?” So the driving was the first thing that we made happen, and of course back then, we all still were thinking, this is only going to be a month or two months. Every day was kind of like a new adventure, let’s see what we can do today. Well, we can do movies, so let’s build a drive-in movie theater and let’s plan on doing movies for a month or so and see what happens. And then it started getting close to summer and camps who are allowed to open. So we realized that we could be classified as a camp because we’re a theater camp, we had a great program all summer, and it was really just every day trying to figure out what to do to get us to the next day.
We worked with all the programs that were out there as far as the PPP, and there were some incentives from the IRS, and there were definitely things we could avail ourselves of. We did several fund drives. One of the biggest things that helped us actually was that our patrons that were all signed up for the 2020 season were willing to push their subscriptions into the new year, so that really helped us, and it really showed the loyalty of our customer base that they would let their their money ride with us, and that really helped fund us through the period of waiting for the payroll protection loan. We’re still here, and I don’t want to say we’re in good shape, but there is more funding coming, and I’m very optimistic about it.
How are you preparing for the possible busier season?
It was interesting because when the pandemic hit, it was March, which is typically a slower time for us anyway, so we didn’t have as many full-time theatrical staff. After we were shut down, which actually was right when we were doing Murder on the Orient Express, and we shut down the night that closed. So the cast went home, the crew for that show went home and we were just left with our core staff, then we realized we had to start cutting back some hours there as well, but at least we kept our main staff on throughout the whole pandemic and up until now, and even though they had reduced hours, we still had our weekly staff meeting, we talk about ideas. There were like 12 of us who were constantly in touch, having our weekly meetings. And when we had some of these events that we did, especially the Halloween Haunted House, we brought back to all staff full-time. And then we had to add more people for the movies, a lot of people needed to work a lot of days during the week to sell the tickets and to scan and take it to cars parked, so we’re just trudging along here and just waiting to continue to add staff and continue to expand what we’re offering.
Have you been in contact with your patrons and your members, and what’s been the community’s response in the past couple of months?
It’s been really positive. I think recently, in the last couple of months, we had a little bit of contact with them, but we don’t want say too much until we really know exactly what we’re doing, because they’ve been waiting so long, they’re along for the ride. They’re ready to stick with us and they’re anxious to find out what’s happening.
For more information on The Gateway, visit thegateway.org.