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Overture Center cutting staffing by 60% amid COVID-19 pandemic

Overture Center cutting staffing by 60% amid COVID-19 pandemic

Overture Center

The Overture Center for the Arts canceled dozens of performances following Gov. Tony Evers' shutdown order in March.

The Overture Center for the Arts is reducing staffing by 60% over the summer in a combination of furloughs, layoffs and hours reductions.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent public health measures, including social distancing and limits on public gatherings, has cost the Overture Center millions of dollars, Overture said in a statement.

“All staffing levels and every position was impacted in some way,” the statement said.

Some positions have been eliminated, but the statement did not specify which positions or how many. The staff reductions will begin July 5 and last through the summer.

Vice president of sales and marketing Ruth Purcell said Overture would not comment further Thursday.

“It’s very important to all of us at Overture that we put our employees first right now and thoroughly roll out our plan for them before we speak more publicly,” Purcell said.

The Overture Center Foundation board of directors unanimously approved financial strategies, including staffing reductions, brought by Overture executives, board chair Betty Harris Custer said.

“Our plans are still evolving, but everything is being done to secure Overture’s future and that of our employees,” Custer said.

George Tzougros, executive director of the Wisconsin Arts Board, said the decision is indicative of the financial troubles facing the arts sector as the pandemic continues. Not only have revenues from ticket sales evaporated, but fewer dollars are coming in through donations both from collections at events and fundraisers and from corporations that may be facing their own financial problems.

“The entire arts sector has been hit extraordinarily hard,” Tzougros said.

Another one of Overture’s funding streams, a percentage of the city’s room tax, has also diminished significantly. Because of steep declines in hotel stays and travel, the city now expects to draw in just half of what it budgeted for in 2020.

Arts centers, such as Overture, also face the uncertainty of when revenue will pick back up.

“We don’t have a crystal ball for when people are going to be able to go back to the theater,” Tzougros said.

City of Madison arts program administrator Karin Wolf said performing artists and musicians were some of the first to be affected by the pandemic, which she said has “wreaked havoc” on the arts community.

“I am feeling devastated for many of my friends and collaborators at Overture who have lost their jobs or have taken drastic cuts due to this unfortunate situation. My heart goes out to them,” Wolf said. “I am certain that the arts community will come together to help support them however we can.”

Overture’s 2019-20 season was interrupted by the pandemic. About 30 shows were canceled, including much of the “Wicked” run and the entirety of “The Play that Goes Wrong.”

In April, Overture announced its 2020-21 season, which includes six-time Tony Award-winning hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” the musical adaptation of the movie “Mean Girls,” a reinterpretation of “Oklahoma!” and more.

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