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Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT: The show must (not) go on: COVID shortens Cardinal’s holiday musical run

Connie Shakalis – HT Columnist

January 6, 2021

 

Nine of Cardinal Stage’s anticipated 16 performances of “A Year with Frog and Toad” squeaked through before the production slipped off the lily pad.

In theater, illness is something you always work through. No longer. But Cardinal is in good company. Broadway, too, is shortstopping shows because crew or cast tested positive for COVID-19. “Thoughts of a Colored Man” and “Waitress,” as of this writing, are the most recent. And, for heaven’s sake, even the Westminster Dog Show has been postponed.

With Cardinal the disappointment bites hard, because its 2021-22 holiday show, “A Year with Frog and Toad,” was so good.

“It is one of our best shows in the past five years,” Gabe Gloden, the company’s managing director, said over the phone. The theater decided early on not to skimp on this one, to use a live band, a complex set, well researched costumes. They wanted audience members to look at each other and say, “Wow, theater’s back.”

As a theater reviewer during the past few years, I saw all of Cardinal’s shows, and many could compete with, or beat, those of bigger, well known theaters. So Gloden’s “best in past five years” means something.

For him to pay this kind of homage to “Frog” disheartens not only Cardinal but me, because it croaked before I caught it.

As a theater reviewer during the past few years, I saw all of Cardinal’s shows, and many could compete with, or beat, those of bigger, well known theaters. So Gloden’s “best in past five years” means something.

For him to pay this kind of homage to “Frog” disheartens not only Cardinal but me, because it croaked before I caught it.

But that philosophy is something he hopes the theater industry can change, that glorified work ethic of actors killing themselves for their art, where they must toil till they crumple.

“That aspect of our business is harmful. If you are sick, you should not have to work.”

Cardinal’s holiday family show costs the most to produce and normally brings in just under 12,000 people, many more than any other of its productions. One reason is that it occurs during winter break, making weekday matinees possible — and popular. Its success usually means it’s almost a fundraiser. But, when things go badly Cardinal can lose $60,000 to $80,000, which is what is probably going to happen with “Frog.”

Gloden believes a pandemic grant they received, thank goodness, will offset much of the loss.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, developed by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act, and amended by the American Rescue Plan Act, grants more than $16 billion to venues in need, according to the U.S. Small Business Association.

“The Shuttered Venue Operators’ Grant this year is the single largest injection of capital into our industry by a government agency in the history of nonprofit regional theater,” Gloden said. “I don’t think we would have produced a family holiday musical had it not been for that.” He suspects that without it, Cardinal would have lain back for a second year, never an attractive idea.

Cardinal still paid the performers for their full contracts, regardless of the cancellations, and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater will be paid in full as well.

In addition to the grant, people have been sharing their money. “Cardinal will be able to weather this storm pretty well because of the extreme generosity we have seen over the last several days.” In a weird way, the closing of “Frog” came at a convenient time, because up until midnight New Year’s Eve, donors’ contributions were being matched (by someone generous). The match’s deadline plus the COVID closing most likely spurred extra donations.

“Look, there’s no way it can get worse than this,” Gloden said. “Maybe I shouldn’t say that.”

Now that I’m thinking about Gloden’s fondness for “Frog,” some of my Cardinal favorites since around the point where he and artistic director Kate Galvin took over, are (pre-Gloden/Galvin) “Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude” and “Frankenstein” as well as (post-Gloden/Galvin) “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged),” “The Roommate,” Charlotte’s Web” and “Sex with Strangers.”

How lucky to live in Bloomington.