SCHENECTADY -- Proctors Collaborative, one of the leading cultural agencies in the Capital Region, has gone from full speed ahead to a standstill in a little more than a week.
“In an organization that was otherwise 26 million dollars a year, being shut is an unbelievable position to be in,” said CEO Philip Morris.
With state mandates surrounding COVID-19, Proctors closed its doors last week along with those of its other affiliations, the Capital Repertory Theatre and Universal Preservation Hall. The organization also postponed shows and events as well as educational programs through April 12. However, there’s a chance that the venues won’t be open until mid-May.
“Our assessment here is that this is going to last a very long time," Morris said. "The closure of Broadway until April 12 sounds nice, but in my view, it’ll be months before people are willing or able . . . to return to the public realm, be it a hockey game or theater event or anything of that concentration,” Morris said.
Thus, to keep the organization financially stable, Proctors announced on Wednesday that it planned to shelve the print edition of its magazine, The Collaborative, and furlough 80 percent of its employees by the end of the week. Senior staff will stay on, as will those whom Morris describes as “jack of all trades” within the organization. All remaining staff will have to take pay reductions and most will work from home, as per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recommendations.
Morris, who has been in self-quarantine over the last few days after discovering he had lunch with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, will be able to return to work after testing negative for the virus.
The decision to lay off employees was not made lightly. According to Morris, Proctors is responsible not only for its three venues but also for dispensing tickets for several other major cultural institutions. It also runs a power generator that serves many of Proctors’ neighbors downtown.
“We need to be responsible to our community for coming back whenever that is,” Morris said.
The closures and the furloughs come during a busy season for Proctors. The organization just re-opened Universal Preservation Hall (UPH) in February and is in the process of constructing a new theater in Albany for Capital Repertory Theatre (aka theREP). While Proctors still hopes to open the theater by July, it’s difficult to know if that will be possible with the rapid spread of COVID-19.
“We’re going to reopen slowly, carefully, happily, and with the right team for what that level is until we can go to full speed again someday, we hope,” Morris said.
He said Proctors won’t be able to rehire all furloughed employees right away.
“There’s not a person on that staff that I wouldn’t rehire but there’s no way we’re going to restart like flipping the switch of a light. Whatever our restart looks like, it’s going to be more like a turbine starting slowly and slowly building up steam and speed,” Morris said.
In the meantime, Proctors is looking into how it can continue to serve the community. Other concert venues that have had to close to the public have started live streaming shows. That format would be challenging for the type of productions and programming that Proctors is known for, according to Morris. However, the option is not completely off the table.
Proctors is asking that people who have purchased tickets to any of the postponed shows hold on to their tickets until the shows are rescheduled. In the coming weeks, the organization plans to start fundraising efforts.
“Our larger community, which has supported us unbelievably, we have to continue to ask for patience and thoughtfulness and acceleration of gifts if they were planning [to give] them so that we can make it to restart,” Morris said, “We’re going to be spending a lot of time trying to imagine [how to] restart and to still provide regional, cultural leadership in this amazingly brutal time.”