How December’s ice storm hurt Seattle performing arts

On the early morning of Seattle’s worst ice storm in a 10 years, Ellen Walker turned on the news at 4:30. The government director of Pacific Northwest Ballet watched as King County Metro suspended bus provider and Seattle-Tacoma Global Airport closed its runways. She seemed, warily, out her window.

PNB experienced two scheduled performances of “The Nutcracker” that Dec. 23, element of an once-a-year custom that delivers in about 50 % of its yearly ticket-sale profits — this 12 months, PNB was taking pictures for $5.5 million of “Nutcracker” income. But Seattle’s historic ice storm didn’t care. Roadways were being treacherous, and without the need of community transit, Walker did not consider it good to McCaw Corridor team or patrons to retain PNB’s afternoon matinee. At 7:10 a.m., she contacted her crew. She talked to PNB’s leaders in manufacturing, costume, orchestra, dance and internet marketing. She looked to peer accomplishing arts businesses who ended up grappling with the identical final decision. By 8:20 a.m., she canceled the 2 p.m. exhibit.

Alongside with PNB, ACT Theatre, Taproot Theatre and other doing arts corporations canceled demonstrates that working day, some of which were the final exhibits of their runs, or near to it, and could not be created up. In a yr when Seattle arts corporations are still grappling with pandemic recovery, each individual ticket counts, and the reduction of 1 or two exhibits in the course of the hectic getaway year experienced a significant money effects on these organizations.

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PNB refunded about $240,000 worth of tickets, and moved some other ticket holders to performances afterwards in the show’s operate (decreasing the full tickets accessible). All in all, the ballet estimates it missing about $250,000 in ticket-sale earnings from the one particular cancellation. Even though it wasn’t fiscally devastating, PNB explained, it even now hurt.

“Our sector, we have experienced a great deal of adversity,” Walker mentioned. “And this was one more working day where you have an prospect to incrementally transfer forward in a prolonged, lengthy, lengthy recovery, and you simply cannot.”

PNB built a distinctive final decision for its performance that evening. With a lead information to ticket holders of “please don’t appear unless of course you feel safe and sound,” Walker decided the streets and sidewalks around PNB had been distinct sufficient by 3 p.m. for the night display to go on. Not all staff could make it, but those people who could did “lots of positions that are not in our job description,” she claimed. The patrons rallied, far too — 1,600 of them, or 55% of McCaw Hall’s potential. 

A couple miles south that working day, ACT Theatre was dealing with the same dilemmas and finished up canceling both equally a matinee and evening overall performance of “A Christmas Carol” — both of which were bought out — as perfectly as a efficiency of “The Dina Martina Xmas Display.” Ticket holders for “Dina” ended up equipped to go to later on demonstrates, but the two remaining performances of “A Xmas Carol” ended up bought out.

Virtually 1,000 ticket holders were unable to see the clearly show, and so significantly, ACT has supplied $50,000 worthy of of ticket refunds and is processing far more. Some patrons possibly place the price tag of their ticket toward a different display or donated it to ACT, which is appreciated because all staff however received paid out for the canceled demonstrates, explained Anita Shah, managing director.

Shah explained the final decision to terminate the matinee arrived down to the protection of the ACT team, as effectively as directives from area leaders to keep dwelling. For the evening present, public transportation wasn’t readily available before long adequate to get the cast and crew to the theater on time.

Taproot Theatre also canceled both of those a matinee and night general performance of “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley.” Taproot’s regular policy for weather is that if I-5 is open up, so is the theater, mentioned Karen Lund, generating artistic director — and I-5 was open. But once you got off the freeway and into Greenwood, the sidewalks and roads have been a no-go. If employees who lived in Greenwood couldn’t even get to get the job done, Lund decided it was finest to terminate the matinee. Then, when the ice in Greenwood was not melting quick enough, she canceled the night general performance, way too.

Both equally displays that day ended up marketed out, and they ended up selling tickets for standing place. On top of that, this run experienced about 1,200 ticket holders who experienced in no way ordered Taproot tickets just before. Who understands, Lund reported, how several new patrons Taproot skipped out on thanks to that one particular cancellation. “It was a genuinely challenging contact to make.”

Lund estimates Taproot shed about $13,000 in profits from the two cancellations, a blend of ticket profits and concessions — a sizeable sum for a tiny theater, she stated. There will not be an option to make up for the loss due to the fact its fiscal calendar year, aligned with the calendar yr, has finished.

The cancellations had been disheartening even outside of the economical impact. “It was our initially demonstrate that we had not had a COVID closure, and … it just felt like we were again,” she mentioned. “It was just a serious dip in our spirits to be shut down again, but for another rationale that we have no control about.”

Gary Tucker, PNB director of communications, explained PNB is grateful it only had to terminate one particular general performance of the 38-show “Nutcracker” operate and that it was capable to move patrons to later on dates. Other organizations, like Seattle Rep and 5th Avenue Theatre, were not so lucky, obtaining experienced to cancel the final performances of their shows’ runs.

Tucker additional that PNB’s economical loss was a “huge blow” but not devastating. “This is distressing, but we count on to soak up the loss without building cuts in our yearly budget.”


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