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Coronavirus: Guthrie Theater lays off more than 200 employees

The Guthrie's largest source of income is ticket sales. It hasn't had a performance since March.

Theaters aren't the best place for social distancing, and that's affected nearly every aspect of The Gutherie Theater in Minneapolis. 

The theater announced in a news release this week it has cut its staff by 79 percent due to adjustments it has had to make in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The very premise of theater is the gathering of people — in the audience, in the lobbies, on the stage, in the rehearsal rooms and backstage,” said Joseph Haj, the Guthrie's artistic director, in a statement. “As a producing theater, our largest source of income is ticket sales. Being unable to perform for so long is financially devastating.

"It is this significant challenge, and the resultant change in programming, that necessitates both short-term and long-term layoffs as well as the elimination of positions. It is with a heavy heart that we share the loss of so many talented, creative, hardworking and beloved colleagues," Haj added.

The Guthrie cut its staff from 262 full- and part-time people to 55. Meanwhile, the Guthrie's six-member senior management team will continue to receive 15-20 percent salary reductions, which began in March.

Marita Meinerts Albinson was the senior communications manager at the Guthrie until she was laid off on May 12. 

"Knowing that theater at its very core is about gathering people together, both on and off stage, to enjoy storytelling in real-time, it became evident as the days and weeks passed that the Guthrie would be unable to do so safely for quite some time in light of the infectious risk of coronavirus," Albinson told BMTN.

"And because the uniqueness of the Guthrie is that the productions are all built on site (sets, costumes, props, wigs, etc.) with people working in close proximity, I sensed that the pandemic would really impact the theater as a whole.

"I believe most of us knew that changes to staffing would be inevitable, but the reality of how many talented people had to be let go is indeed shocking," she added.

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These layoffs come after the theater in April canceled the remainder of the 2019-2020 season and earlier this month reduced its 2020-2021 season budget by 60 percent, from $31 million to about $12.6 million.

Originally, it was set to include 10 plays starting in September, but it's been reduced to three plays between March-August 2021.

“I look forward to the day when we can safely welcome audiences and artists back to the Guthrie,” Haj said in the release. “If we can open before March, we will make every effort to do so."

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