By Cara Van Dyke and Tracy Essex
With concerns about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the performing arts community in the Coachella Valley and beyond, a new group has formed for a common good. Six local, producing theatre companies have created the Alliance of Desert Theatres. Its mission statement reads: The Alliance of Desert Theatres is a cooperative of producing theatre companies that network and take action in order to advocate for and nurture a vibrant performing arts community.
The Alliance of Desert Theatres started as many people and businesses are doing these days, with a Zoom call. Since that first virtual meeting on May 15, 2020, the group, which consists primarily of the theatres’ artistic directors, senior management, and business representatives, has created several working committees, shared information and ideas about bulk purchasing power, co-op advertising, health regulations, and other important updates, as the coronavirus information is a moving target.
At the forefront of the discussions are how to open live performing arts venues safely and how theatre companies can continue to enrich people’s lives until they do. All theatres are awaiting state and county guidelines, which they expect will include information about social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing. With Coachella Valley theatres located in five different cities and with auditoriums ranging in seating capacity from 80-208, individual theatres may have hyper-local regulations to comply with as well. Some area companies must also reinvent themselves under policies currently being established by the Actors’ Equity Association. These regulations will likely focus on the health and safety of its members, American stage actors.
The theatre companies currently participating in the Alliance are: Coachella Valley Repertory (CV Rep), Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Desert Theatreworks, Dezart Performs, Green Room Theatre and Palm Canyon Theatre. These theatres are all nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on donations, grants, fundraisers and ticket sales to break even each year. Since the pandemic, some theatres have reached out to donors independently or held virtual fundraisers, knowing the current economic climate is volatile.
Although much is unknown about the reopening of venues and events, including theatre productions, local producing companies are still creating and planning for the future. Some companies are producing online performances and concerts. Some theatres are anticipating a fall reopen, while others are planning for January 2021. No matter the speculated date, which will ultimately be determined by health and government regulations, production royalties must be paid in advance for the number of potential ticket sales per performance – a difficult number to commit to with capacity policies unknown. Auditions and casting must still take place in order to secure performers and begin preproduction such as costuming.
Many of the valley’s theatres stopped mid-production or ceased to open a readied production, so their stages remain as they were when stay-at-home orders were announced in mid-March. With these images in mind, the Alliance is discussing ways to get the word out to patrons that the local stages await the return of their audiences. The group continues to make itself known and welcomes other area producing theatres, including those in the Hi Desert, to join. Individuals or businesses interested in supporting the local performing arts community are encouraged to donate directly to their beloved Coachella Valley theatres.