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Center Theatre Group lays off more than half of its staff

Inside an empty Mark Taper Forum
The Mark Taper Forum, one of Center Theatre Group’s three venues to go dark during the pandemic.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Less than three months after announcing its stages would have to remain dark through April, Center Theatre Group confirmed Friday that COVID-19 closures have forced the company to lay off 91 previously furloughed employees, a mix of full- and part-timers who account for 53% of its workforce.

The layoffs take effect at the end of September and hit hardest the marketing and sales teams of CTG, the largest and most prestigious nonprofit theater company in the region. The number cited Friday does not account for the artists, actors, designers and stage workers sidelined by productions that have been delayed or canceled, the company said.

“We remain steadfast in our efforts to resume productions as soon as it is safe and financially viable to do so. While there has been no one specific change to our future plans that leads to this decision, we no longer felt it reasonable or responsible to keep our furloughed staff waiting in limbo any longer,” Artistic Director Michael Ritchie and Managing Director Meghan Pressman said in a joint statement released to The Times. “We had hoped to have more clarity by now, but that clarity simply hasn’t come soon enough.”

The company had previously said the unprecedented closure of its three stages — the Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum in downtown L.A. and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City — would result in an estimated $40 million of lost revenue.

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The company initially furloughed half of its staff, cut pay for others and indefinitely postponed all summer performances, including the Diane Paulus-directed revival of “1776,” Aasif Mandvi’s one-man show “Sakina’s Restaurant” and the world premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s play about LeBron James, “King James.” At the time, the company hoped to resume programming in the fall.

As coronavirus cases and deaths spiked over the summer, CTG, like theaters across the nation, was forced to reexamine its plans. CTG pushed live performances until the spring and postponed productions of “The Lehman Trilogy,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Les Misérables” and “Hadestown” until later in the season. In announcing that its earliest return would be for “To Kill a Mockingbird” on April 29, CTG conceded that it would remain closed for at least 56 consecutive weeks.

The company said Friday that it is trying to blunt the effect of the layoffs by offering eligible staff a severance payment and extending health benefits through the end of this year.

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The news from CTG continues the drawn-out financial reckoning of COVID-19 in an industry that already struggled to balance budgets. In July the Washington Post reported that the Shakespeare Theater Company laid off some 38 of 116 staff members and cut its $18.5 million annual budget by 44%. In May the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis laid off 207 of 262 employees and slashed its budget by 59%, according to the Pioneer Press.

Here in L.A., the theater cuts have been echoed in other sectors of the arts. Layoffs at major institutions have included the Broad museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hollywood Bowl.

A small L.A. artist collective beats out more than 100 entries from around the world with a “friendly” design that balances the past with the future.


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