Still sinking from a 2019 budget shortfall, Barter Theatre has once again found itself in dire financial straits due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Barter Theatre announced that it would be delaying its spring season, initially set to start tomorrow, March 26, with a production of “Macbeth.” A statewide ban on large gatherings and theater showings has forced the theater to shut its doors until at least May. Two other shows in April have also been temporarily canceled — “Driving Miss Daisy” and the Barter Players’ “Peter Pan.”
A notice on Barter Theatre’s website says that “many productions planned for spring will likely be rescheduled for later in the year.”
Barter anticipates it will be able to open its doors to the public at the end of May if it’s safe to do so. But in a press release, Barter said the “unforeseeable catastrophe” of the pandemic has forced them to furlough 87 staff members and cut wages for all remaining employees. Without revenue from the spring season, the Barter is turning to a COVID-19 Relief Fund to cover costs and is encouraging patrons to buy Barter gift cards and tickets for future shows. Anyone who has already purchased tickets can also donate the cost of the ticket to the theater and receive a tax deduction.
The theater earlier announced it was looking into streaming filmed versions of the productions, which could provide a new source of revenue for patrons who could stream them at home, but the theater warned that those sales would not be enough to keep Barter afloat. As of now, only Barter Players productions for young audiences will be available to stream at https://bartertheatre.com/barter-theatre-on-demand. Barter announced the service should be available as early as March 29 and will include a full performance of "Peter Pan," bonus features and resources for educators.
The setback has cut short a promising start to the 2020 season. Barter began the year with new leadership under Katy Brown, a longtime director at the theater, and a shortened schedule; instead of opening in February, as usual, the Barter opened its stage through the first two months of 2020 to live musical performances. The annual January Jams was accompanied by a new set of February shows, the Abingdon Sessions, which created an unexpected windfall for the town of Abingdon. More than half of Abingdon Sessions ticket buyers were first-time visitors to the Barter Theatre, drawing in more tourism dollars.
Brown made the decision to cut down the number of productions this year after a disappointing box office for the 2019 summer show “Shrek.” Steep production costs and weak ticket sales put the Barter in the red for much of 2019, and the theater launched a fundraising campaign in the latter half of the year to make up for the loss with community contributions.