Friday night, Pacific Northwest Ballet was set to premiere two ballets: David Dawson’s Empire Noir and Alejandro Cerrudo’s One Thousand Pieces, which is inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows. But McCaw Hall’s nearly 3,000 seats will remain empty through the end of the month. Ellen Walker, PNB's executive director, says the ballet has some “liquidity in the short term” to pay as many people as possible on the organization’s more than 800-person payroll, which includes two PNB School locations.
For venues through the city, ticket sales were already down, and events were being canceled and postponed when Jay Inslee announced the prohibition on gatherings of over 250 people yesterday. In rapid succession, though, major arts organizations began announcing their closures. The STG theaters (Paramount, Moore, Neptune). Both Showboxes. Seattle Repertory Theater. Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. Benaroya Hall. The Frye Art Museum (including its cafe). Gallery 4Culture (starting Monday, March 16).
Some are offering digital alternatives. PNB ticket holders and subscribers can watch a recording of the ballet, says Walker. Seattle Symphony is offering free livestreams of performances. The first is tonight at 7:30: Mahler's Symphony No. 1. You can watch on the symphony's YouTube.
Nearly three weeks (and, according to Inslee, likely more) of lost ticket sales can be devastating to big organizations, especially as many rely on donors whose stocks are in peril. But Walker says it’s important to look at the big picture. “We are definitely an interdependent ecology. Small, medium, and big organizations all rely on one another,” she says. They share artists, performers, musicians. A hit to the big venues will roll over into staffs at smaller ones.
Some have decided to stay open and work with the restriction. Neumos continued with a show last night, but has now canceled or postponed shows through the weekend. Local psych-rock band Acid Tongue will still release its new record, Bullies, at the Tractor Tavern on Friday night. But the show is capped at 250 tickets (the venue holds 400). The 200-seat Market Theater in Pike Place Market will remain open for Unexpected Productions’s improve shows, but has decreased the number of seats available.
Even venues well below the 250-person limit—like Washington Theater Ensemble, where the house is usually between 80 and 90 people—are contemplating how to react. WET premiered the solo performance piece Raja Feather Kelly’s Ugly last week; it's sold out through the weekend. But Maggie Rogers, WET’s literary manager, says the company has seen lower than usual ticket sales and has been contemplating how responsible it is to put on shows right now.
And economic impacts on Seattle’s arts community range further than depleted ticket sales or canceled events. It’s easy to forget (if you don’t know them personally) that enormous amounts of the city’s artists work in the suffering service industry. Most of WET’s staff works day jobs elsewhere, says Rogers, as lighting techs, in cafes, at weddings: “Our income has been greatly affected.” Poet Kary Wayson, who just released the wonderful collection The Slip last month, took to Twitter when Tom Douglas announced he is temporarily closing 12 of his 13 restaurants.
just got laid off for the first time in my life. the chef i work for owns 13 restaurants in seattle, and he’s closing all of them for the next two months at least. surreal.— Kary Wayson (@karywayson) March 12, 2020
At the moment, this feels unprecedented and grim. So what can you do?
“Invest in arts and culture by attending things when we're all back open again,” says Walker, “by subscribing to our seasons, by bringing their friends.”
Donate your ticket price, either by not asking for a refund or donating it back to the organization.
Pay for the arts you consume. Skipping a concert? Buy the album on Bandcamp. Skipping a reading? Buy the book. (Also—totally non-COVID-19-related cough, cough—not a bad idea for the journalism you consume.)