Community arts and cultural organizations and attractions anticipate losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, with closings necessary because of COVID-19

Some notices to patrons indicate hope that performances can begin again later this year

Image courtesy The Players Centre

An announcement The Players Centre of Sarasota sent this week to patrons and supporters seemed to have summed up the feelings of many members of Sarasota County’s arts and cultural community.

Emailed on March 17, the notice said, “The current guidelines by the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] tell us to limit gatherings to no more than 10 individuals. This is difficult for us in the live performance industry. Sitting in a dark theatre surrounded by others is part of the thrill of attending a show.”

City of Sarasota leaders’ March 13 decision to close the city-owned and operated Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall through March 31 launched a cascade of announcements from representatives of arts and cultural organizations in Sarasota County.

By early this week, several of them were making it clear that the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19 would be devastating to their financial situations.

The Sarasota Opera was among the first entities to announce that it was suspending “all performances of operas and other concerts and events as of March 13 …”

The Players Centre initially cancelled performances of Rabbit Hole, plus its planned fundraiser, Those Were the Days. The affected dates were March 13-16, March 19-21 and March 22, an email blast reported. Then on March 16, The Players issued a revised event list, explaining that it was cancelling everything through April 18. Among the latter were performances of Anything Goes, planned for March 25 through April 12.

The organization said it expects to lose about $550,000 because of the cancellations.

This is the banner on the Venice Theatre homepage as of March 20. Image courtesy Venice Theatre

For another example, Venice Theatre announced late last week that it would cease performances, classes and all other public events until March 27. Then, on March 17, it, too, issued an update: “Due to the global impact of COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to cancel aactWORLDFEST 2020. We are looking forward to aactWORLDFEST 2022,” which has been scheduled for June 20-26, 2022.

The following other Venice Theatre activities and events have been cancelled:

  • The Peanut Gallery Teen Improv Troupe performance.
  • The Silver Foxes — Broadway by the Sea.
  • Epiphany Cathedral School’s production of Once on This Island, Jr.
  • Adult Class Showcase.
  • Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.
  • The Loveland Players’ annual production.
  • The spring semester of Creative Dramatics for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
  • Spring Break Camp.
  • The adult class Mining Your Own Impulses.

“The financial impact to Venice Theatre will be immense,” the most recent announcement said. “As a result of these cancellations we estimate losing $750,000 in revenue,” the release pointed out, with emphasis. “In addition, by offering credits toward next season, we will be impacting our income for next year as well,” it said.

Like other arts and cultural organizations, Venice Theatre leaders asked that patrons consider donating at least a portion of their tickets for the canceled performances. “By doing so,” the email continued, patrons “are helping to limit the financial impact to the theatre and helping our organization weather this difficult period.”

Last week, the Asolo Repertory Theatre canceled all remaining performances of Into the Breeches! and The Lifespan of a Fact, as well as public events, including spring break intensive classes that were to have been conducted this week. Then, on the afternoon of March 19, it issued an update, cancelling the remainder of its 2019-20 season.

“Originally scheduled to run through June 28th, the canceled productions include The Great Leap, Knoxville, Hood and Snow White,” the Asolo Rep release pointed out.

Image courtesy Asolo Repertory Theatre

“The safety and well-being of our audience, artists and staff will always be of the highest importance to us,” said Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards in the release.

“It is absolutely heartbreaking that the companies of these shows, which have done some of the most remarkable work I have seen in my 14 years in this position, will not have the opportunity to perform this season on our stage,” added Edwards in the release. “These decisions were not made lightly, but we deem them necessary to support our community’s and the world’s efforts to respond to the spread of the virus.”

On March 14, Urbanite Theatre in downtown Sarasota postponed all performances of The Feast indefinitely, telling patrons that its staff was working to rescheduled the production “for later in the year …”

This website banner for Urbanite Theatre advertises The Feast. Image from the website on March 20

Urbanite Theatre, too, noted the “profound financial impact” of its decision, adding that its projected losses would be close to $50,000 — “a staggering blow for a small non-profit.”

Nonetheless, the Urbanite management wrote, “[W]e move in solidarity with the rest of our community and country to combat the spread of this virus.”

On March 16, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe announced it has closed its production of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, which was slated to run through April 5. The Troupe also postponed its annual spring fundraiser, the April Fools Fete, from March 30 to May 18, a news release said. That fundraiser benefits the WBTT’s educational programs, the release adds.

In another March 16 notice, Florida Studio Theatre (FST) let its patrons know it was closing as of that day. “The nonprofit theatre is hopeful it will be able to reopen with its Summer Mainstage Season beginning the first week of June,” a news release said.

“This difficult decision comes following the CDC’s latest update, issued 3/15, which decreased the recommended size of public gatherings from a maximum of 250 persons (which is in keeping with the capacity of all five of FST’s intimate theatres) to no more than 50, forcing the theatre to temporarily suspend all public performances,” the release pointed out.

Image courtesy Sarasota Ballet

Then on March 17, Sarasota Ballet issued this statement: “After significant discussion and weighing of available information [and] to safeguard our dancers, students, patrons, and staff from COVID-19 we have made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of our Season. This means that along with the already announced cancellation of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Romeo & Juliet, Program 7-Beyond Words and all remaining events have been cancelled. Additionally, all Education programs have been closed in accordance with the public schools. While this represents a potential financial loss to the Company of close to $800,000, we are committed to our dancers, and will continue to pay them through to the end of the Season.”

Mote and Selby Gardens join the list

Selby Gardens and Mote Aquarium have joined the “temporarily closed” list, as well.

A note on the homepage of Selby Gardens website says, “It is with a heavy heart and abundance of caution regarding the Coronavirus pandemic that we have decided to close Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to the public,” as of March 17 and “until further notice.”

Like many other nonprofits in the community, Selby Gardens is encouraging the public to consider making donations to it.

“As our entire organization confronts these unknown circumstances,” the website notice says, “it is even more important to have your support during this critical time. Although the Gardens will be closed, we are committed to paying our employees so they are protected from unexpected financial stresses. If you would like to help us during this challenging time, please consider making a gift to Selby Gardens here.”

Among the events the Gardens has cancelled are its traditional Easter Brunch and Mother’s Day Brunch.

In a March 18 email blast, Michael Crosby, president & CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, wrote, To protect the health of our Mote family — our members, supporters, staff, volunteers and interns — and the community we share, Mote Aquarium is closed temporarily, until further notice (check for updates and read a letter from me at We will miss your smiling faces, but we know how much these precautions matter for the health and safety of our most vulnerable community members.”

Crosby also noted, “Each day we are losing nearly $28,000 of Aquarium admission, diner, gift shop and associated revenue. Despite this significant loss of revenue that we have elected to incur in order to do all we can to be responsible members of our community during this time of pandemic, it’s important to emphasize that I have committed that no action is being taken to furlough or lay off any of our incredible Mote staff as a result of this temporary closure. Mote is a unique family that includes our staff, volunteers, donors, members and guests — and a family takes care of each other, especially in times of challenge.”