After a surge of canceled performances, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre resumes production in late March
Inside the Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s approach to the Omicron variant
The Woolly Mammoth Theatre in D.C. made it through the first 20 months of the coronavirus pandemic without any coronavirus outbreaks, according to Emika Abe, managing director of the theater.
By requiring vaccinations, regular PCR testing, upgraded ventilation and increased sanitation, the company avoided illness, according to Abe. However, the Omicron variant proved to be a different battle.
The Penn Quarter theater canceled eight performances of their December production of “A Strange Loop” after an increase in COVID-19 cases. “A Strange Loop,” a show about a Black queer writer writing a show about a Black queer writer, plans to hit Broadway in early April.
The theater also postponed their February to mid-March production, “Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner,” a Gen-Z analysis of cancel culture and social media activism. The postponement was not directly related to the surge, but due to a delay in the Visa approval process as the company was going to travel from the U.K.
According to Abe, with the cancellation of the eight “A Strange Loop” performances, the theatre lost about $60,000 in revenue. Although the company will bounce back, additional expenses for coronavirus mitigation as the pandemic continues may become an issue, especially because they are not receiving government funding that was provided in 2020 and 2021.
“Omicron or not, we’re still being impacted by COVID,” said Abe.
During “A Strange Loop,” many part-time front of house staff had to call in sick to quarantine. During the pause in production, most of these employees are additionally still working their day jobs. All of the theater’s ushers are volunteers, and some have been working with the company for 30 years. Many decided to sit out of “A Strange Loop” because they were concerned about spreading COVID-19 over the holidays.
In order to adapt, the theater took on some new approaches to community building during the pandemic including Instagram live talkbacks. Although they hope to move all events back to in-person, digital talkbacks have helped to increase audience engagement.
Audiences remain eager to return, particularly because of the theater’s affordability. Seeing a show at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre can cost less than going to the movies. Even with the recent coronavirus surge, the Wooly Mammoth Theatre continues their Pay-What-You-Will program.
The Pay-What-You-Will-Program is a part of their goal to center anti-racism, equity and advocacy. The program eliminates cost as a barrier to experiencing the theatre. For 28 seats of every performance, audience members have the option to pay what they can for a seat. No justification for what is paid is required.
“People think of it sometimes as something frivolous, when it’s actually something necessary,” Clare Lockhart, audience service manager of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, said.
The theater also offers a Golden Ticket, an all-access pass to every performance in the season, so audience members have an opportunity to go back to a show more than once. Similar to the Pay-What-You-Will Program, audience members can purchase the pass for $179 or $288 with no justification for the price they choose. Passholders confirm their seat prior to a performance and attend as many performances as they wish.
Woolly Mammoth audiences respond well to increased safety measures, according to Lockhart. Audiences do not mind quickly pulling their mask down to eat or drink. For next season, the theater is looking to include special socially distanced performances for those who are extra concerned about safety.
Their upcoming show “Hi, Are You Single?” is a journey through the gay dating scene and is scheduled to go into rehearsal in the middle of March.
“I don’t have the crystal ball yet, but I am feeling optimistic about the rest of the season,” Abe said.