By March of 2020, the entire Seattle community was on edge. A mysterious new disease called COVID-19 had started to spread throughout the United States, and Seattle was home to the first major outbreak in the country. Jeffrey Herrmann, Managing Director at Seattle Rep, noticed that patrons were increasingly hesitant to buy tickets for shows and RSVP for events. Cancellation and no-show rates had increased dramatically. Together with Artistic Director Braden Abraham, he convened daily huddles with the entire leadership team to stay ahead of the rapidly changing situation. It was during one of these huddles in Abraham’s office that the leadership team watched, with a mix of trepidation and relief, a broadcast of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s press conference in which he announced the closure of the state and effectively cancelled all of Seattle Rep’s performances. The initial two-week shutdown was later extended through at least the end of the 2019-’20 season in June.
Prior to the pandemic-induced shutdown, Seattle Rep had been deliberately increasing its investment in the work presented onstage. Abraham and Herrmann had encouraged the Board of Trustees to approve deficit budgets, which allowed them to invest in the artistic product, leading to increased support from Seattle theatregoers and arts patrons. However, Seattle Rep entered fiscal year 2019-’20 in a precarious financial position. The Theater had an accrued deficit and a reliance on ticket sales for future seasons to meet cash flow needs for its current season.
The Theater survived the initial months of the pandemic with extraordinary financial support from its community combined with extreme cost-cutting measures, but the budgeting process for fiscal year 2020-’21 was delayed. While the board usually approved a budget each June for the following fiscal year, due to increased uncertainty, they granted Herrmann’s request in June 2020 to pass an interim three-month budget to fund Seattle Rep through September 30, 2020. Abraham and Herrmann used this extra time to put together two budget proposals for fiscal year 2020-’21: a larger “standby” budget that kept organizational staffing at a level that would allow a return to live production as soon as public health conditions allowed, and a smaller “hibernation” budget that would conserve cash by spending only what was necessary to maintain the organization, foreclosing any opportunities for production until July 2021 at the earliest. Abraham and Herrmann had to decide which budget to present for trustee approval.
Citation: Jake Hurwitz, "Seattle Rep (2020)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case 21-113, May 12, 2022