Milwaukee Rep postpones upcoming season, announces modified lineup

Five-show reset season begins Dec. 1, with one-actor rendition of 'A Christmas Carol'

The Rep is laying the groundwork to expand the building near the Well Street entrance of the complex, 108 E. Wells St., to house a new education and engagement center and create a larger lobby.

Last updated on August 27th, 2020 at 01:19 pm

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater on Tuesday announced additional changes to the upcoming 2020-’21 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After originally being delayed two months, all twelve shows have been moved to 2021-’22 and replaced with what the Rep calls its 2020-’21 Season Reset.

The five-show lineup, running Dec. 1, 2020 to May 32, 2021, begins with a one-actor rendition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. The show will feature actor Lee E. Ernst, who has appeared at the Rep in a number of shows, including ‘A Christmas Carol’ in the early 2000s as Ebenezer Scrooge.

The modified season will continue in 2021, with ‘Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song,’ ‘McGuire,’ ‘Antonio’s Song/I Was Dreaming Of A Son,’ and ‘Nina Simone: Four Women.’ A full schedule is available here.

“The original 2020-’21 Season was designed to be enjoyed by over 250,000 audience members and involve more than 500 artists and staff,” said Mark Clements, artistic director “Unfortunately, given the realities of COVID-19, producing the announced season in a safe and responsible manner is not possible at this time.”

The Rep has rolled out a number of health and safety protocols aimed at protecting patrons, performers and staff once shows start. All theaters will be limited to 35% capacity and audience members will be seated in a socially distanced format, in addition to increased cleaning procedures, paperless tickets, face mask requirement and an enhanced HVAC system, according to a news release.

Also for safety, Clements said, the season will start with the smallest cast shows and increase in size through the spring.

“It may look different, but our dedicated artists and staff are eager to put their skills to task and provide our audiences with a theatrical experience that will undoubtedly meet our world-class standards,” he said.

Subscribers and ticket holders for the originally planned 2020-’21 season will automatically have their tickets rolled over to the 2021-’22 season, according to the release.

Clements hopes the Rep’s reset season will drive gradual demand as audiences get comfortable sitting in front of live actors again, and vice versa. He said despite the pandemic’s lasting impact on consumer taste and behavior, the experience of live arts and entertainment won’t lose its value.

The Rep is keeping ticket prices low for the upcoming season, starting at $120 for a main floor season pass, or $30 per ticket. The pass includes an option for a high-definition virtual viewing of the production if the ticket holder is not comfortable attending in person.

But with $1.5 million in already lost revenue and an additional $6 million still expected in 2020-’21 due to limited capacities, fewer productions and low ticket sales, the Rep will be running its modified 2020-’21 season with a budget that’s been cut in half from $14 million to $7 million.

What’s more, the theater had kept the full-time and seasonal employees on payroll since March utilizing reserves, a $1.4 million federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and donor support. However, as of Aug. 3, The Rep was forced to lay off and furloughed nearly half of its employees, and reduce the salaries and benefits of those who remain.

For those reasons, The Rep has launched an emergency relief fundraising campaign, in which its Board of Trustees will match all new and increased gifts up to $500,000.

The challenges that The Rep is currently facing are not unique, as part of an industry that has been among the hardest hit by government-mandated restrictions and stay-at-home orders in response to the pandemic.

Theaters and venues were some of the first businesses to close at the onset of the pandemic, and most have yet to open without any federal assistance left to rely on.

Clements said The Rep chose to invest in its staff rather than making drastic cuts and scheduling changes right away like many larger venues did.

“We did what we could for as long as we can,” said Clements. “We were having a good year, we got the PPP loan and we maxed that out for as long as possible, but then there came a point where that stopped… We will need to raise a huge amount of money to stay viable and not to have a brain drain from the organization.”

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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