TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in danger of closing, company says


TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, a Tony Award-winning stage company that has been a cornerstone of the Bay Area theater scene for decades, is facing a severe post-COVID financial squeeze and may not survive the year, directors have announced.

The company, which earlier this year postponed a world premiere musical, “Alice Bliss,” slated to run July 12 to Aug. 6, said in a news release Wednesday that it will be forced to shut down for good if it does not raise $3 million by November.

“We have now reached a danger point,” executive director Debbie Chinn said in a statement. While federal COVID funds helped keep TheatreWorks afloat during the pandemic shutdown, “those emergency sources were spent according to federal regulations, and despite our best efforts to bounce back from this crisis, we are now looking at a gravely dire shortfall in income” Chinn noted. “We have been (making) and continue to make hard decisions, including deep financial cuts within the company. But frankly, without significant additional funding, we will be unable to continue operations.”

The news is the latest unsettling reflection on how the pandemic, which shut down nearly all live performances for some two years beginning in March 2020, has exacted a lasting toll on the arts and entertainment world in the Bay Area and beyond. Berkeley-based TheatreFIRST recently announced it is shutting down after its end-of-August performances, while several other Bay Area troupes — including Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Dragon Theater, foolsFURY, Ragged Wing Ensemble, Those Women Productions and PianoFight, among others — have closed in recent years.

TheatreWorks, which performs in the Mountain View Center for the Performing arts as well as the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, ups the ante on the trend. Along with such companies as American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, it is considered one of the Bay Area’s premiere regional professional theater companies. Its predicament can be compared to the Center Theater Group, one of Los Angeles’ primary stage companies, which in June announced a variety of cost-cutting measures that included shuttering one of its three theaters — the iconic Mark Taper Forum — and all productions scheduled there through the 2023-24 season.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley costume rentals manager Ren Geiselhart restocks costumes at TheatreWorks’ headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

TheatreWorks has earned a nationwide reputation as a company eager to develop and showcase new works. It has debuted 72 world premieres over its history, including the musical “Memphis,” which went on to win the Tony Award for best musical in 2010.

While not all the closings were due solely to the pandemic, having theaters go dark for two years robbed them of vital revenues and forced patrons to find other sources of entertainment. A good portion of those patrons have not yet returned to the theater.

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