Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Democrats fret it could be curtains for local theaters without federal funds

By 37ci3 Apr25,2024


Four years after it began, Covid-19 is in the rearview mirror for millions of people and hundreds of businesses in the United States — not just some theaters seeking federal funding, according to some Democratic lawmakers.

Professional non-profit theaters have not recovered from the pandemic, dozens of stages will be closed across the country without emergency funds. Now, a group of Democrats in Congress are saying “the show must go on” and are introducing legislation that could prevent the curtains from closing.

The Theater and Arts Act to Galvanize the Economy – or the STAGE Act – would provide $1 billion annually to invest in the industry, helping community theaters pay rent, hire artists and attract new audiences.

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa.  and Peter Welch, D-Vt.  and Rep.  Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., is interviewed at the Capitol on April 11 about the theater funding legislation.
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. and Peter Welch, D-Vt. and Rep. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., is interviewed at the Capitol on April 11 about the theater funding legislation.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

“We have people in all our communities, red or blue state, who are committed to making local theater vital,” Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in an interview this month.

During National Theater Week, Welch, Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., met with Hollywood stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danai Gurira at the Capitol to drum up support for the bill.

“Careers are built, dreams are built, you know, where communities come together. I grew up a very shy, lonely child. And I found my people in the theater,” Ferguson, the “Modern Family” star, said in an interview.

Ferguson got his first big break on the small stage and is still performing, most recently at the famous New York Public Theater in Manhattan.

Actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danai Gurira speak with New York Public Theater Artistic Director Oscar Eustis as they advocate for a bill to fund theaters on April 11.
Actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danai Gurira speak with New York Public Theater Artistic Director Oscar Eustis as they advocate for a bill to fund theaters on April 11.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

Public Theater artistic director Oscar Eustis, who helped create “Hamilton” and oversees “Shakespeare in the Park,” said nonprofit theaters “can let artists learn who they are and be themselves before they go out into the wider world.”

“And here communities can see themselves reflected,” he said.

According to Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Eustis and Washington, D.C., theaters facing rising costs and declining audiences cannot continue to operate without intervention from Congress. For the survival of these theaters.”

The two argued that such non-profit theaters “can’t survive on the market alone” because the theater industry will only “serve the wealthy,” with most Broadway shows and expensive productions returning after the pandemic.

“Are we going to accept an America divided into warring tribes, where the wealthy are separated from everyone else, where the right and the left are completely siloed?” Eustis asked. “Or do we have to be one country, e pluribus unum, and to do that we need the support of the federal government to create a culture that everyone can share that we will insist on in general?”

Oscar Eustis, artistic director of New York's Public Theater, and Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington, D.C., at the Capitol on April 11 to advocate for theater funding.
Oscar Eustis, artistic director of New York’s Public Theater, and Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington, D.C., at the Capitol on April 11 to advocate for theater funding.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

Unlike the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, The current bill, which provides $15 billion to the industry as part of the Covid relief package approved by Congress, has only Democratic support. Along with Welch, Fetterman and Bonamici, Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Alex Padilla, D-Calif. and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also sponsored the legislation.

Bonamici tried to appeal to Republicans by offering a fiscal argument.

“It supports the local economy,” he said, noting local theaters in his home state of Oregon have spread the business to shops and restaurants in town. “It’s really an economic issue, but it’s also an issue of what it means to our community to sit together and laugh and cry and ask questions and be together.”

Fetterman, who created a rent-free theater in his home in Pennsylvania, said he’s “seen firsthand the growth it’s brought.”

“I put my money where my mouth is. I gave a completely free space to that community theater, the Bare Bones Theater in Braddock, and they just wrapped the show two weeks ago,” she said, adding that community theater involvement can help young generations, including younger generations. daughter who is involved in several productions – trading screen time for face time.

“I can’t really advise getting kids off their phones because my kids are on their phones,” he joked.

Actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danai Gurira
Actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danai Gurira walk in front of the Russell Senate Office Building as they advocate for the Save Our Stages Act on April 11.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

Gurira, who played General Okoye in the Academy Award-winning Black Panther, agreed, saying, “You want to get your kid off their phone and tablet? Just put them on a theater program.”

“They really work because they allow the child to experience the power of their own creativity,” she said.

Like Ferguson, Gurira began her career in local community theater and now not only performs in plays, but also writes them. Pointing to his role as King Richard III of England in Shakespeare in the Park in the summer of 2022, Gurira said such theaters are the only place where imagination knows no bounds.

“Someone like me, a Zimbabwean-American woman, playing an old famous British king — you know, that doesn’t happen anywhere but in the theater,” she said.



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