In June 2020, the co-equal Directors of Soho Repertory Theatre (Soho Rep) Sarah Benson, Cynthia Flowers, and Meropi Peponides had to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with a 2020-21 season plan. New York City theaters like Soho Rep had endured weeks of confusion and distress since the public health crisis shuttered performance venues globally in March 2020. No end was in sight. However bad it was for theaters, though, Benson, Flowers, and Peponides agreed that it was far worse for freelancers – actors, designers, writers, directors, dramaturgs – who held no permanent position at Soho Rep but had nonetheless been integral to its success. They were determined to get money into artists’ pockets but were unsure how if they could not do it with live theater.
The small-but-mighty, 45-year-old staple of the city’s Off-Broadway scene had entered the decade at the height of its powers, epitomized by a Pulitzer Prize for Drama win for its world premiere play Fairview in 2019. Its latest strategic plan poised it to achieve financial durability and expand its season. Soho Rep was better positioned than most to weather the COVID-19 closure due to its low reliance on ticket sales, lean administrative overhead, and over $1 million of recent fundraising success tied to the strategic plan. The prospect of no earned income, however, which in 2019 constituted 55% of American not-for-profit theaters’ revenues, posed a threat to any performing arts organization like Soho Rep. Benson, Flowers, and Peponides had to determine what kinds of opportunities they could provide for artists under existing public health restrictions, along with how much they could responsibly spend and whether to deprioritize previous goals. They questioned whether the present-day struggles of artists mattered more than the organizational enhancements they had craved for years. More broadly, the Directors grappled with how a producing theater like Soho Rep should achieve its mission without in-person plays and whether, with tens of thousands out of work, their 65-seat not-for-profit theater could make any difference. The 2020-21 season plan had to address these questions while stewarding the organization through a wrenching and unpredictable year.
Citation: A.J. Roy, "Soho Repertory Theatre (2020)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case 21-116, May 12, 2022.