LOS ANGELES — With theatres closed, Eric Babb has been crafting his way through the pandemic.
“Little things around the house," he said, surrounded by art in colorful frames. "Just trying to nest.”
Babb is an assistant prop shop manager with Center Theatre Group. It’s his dream job so getting furloughed a few months ago was a big blow, he said.
“It’s hard for somebody to tell you that we don’t need you right now and you cannot do your job," Babb said.
There are five full-time members of the close-knit prop department. Babb said they were prepping for the next few productions when the pandemic hit.
“But we had about a week to wrap everything up at the shop to try to inventory everything, to put it on the shelf for next year,” he said.
Center Theatre Group has announced it is postponing its 54th season until April. By the time the curtain rises again, their theatres will have been dark for 56 weeks.
“It’s really hard to wrap your head around it," said Meghan Pressman said, CTG’s managing director and CEO. "At least, it is for me.”
Rather than think of the company as being dark, she prefers to think of it as being without their stages.
“That begs the question, 'What do we do in the meantime?'" she said. "How do we still serve art to our audiences? Because the stages that we have are not the only answer to that.”
Almost immediately they launched a digital platform featuring past performances, instructional videos, and panel discussions. It’s called Art Goes On, but how can it without funding? The nonprofit theatre company has launched an emergency giving fund to try to make up for millions in lost ticket sales. They also recently had to expand the number of people furloughed to more than half of their staff.
“Which is of course incredibly painful," Pressman said. "At this point in time, we’re down to about 40% and we’re looking to be at that level for a number of months until we can start to gear back up again.”
As difficult as it is for him, Babb thinks it’s the right choice for the company’s future and in the long-run, for his own.
“They need to ensure that there is a company for us to go back to," he said.
He’s grateful that he’s been able to collect unemployment and additional pandemic benefits but he’s worried about what could happen if those benefits run out before his job starts again.
“Ninety percent of my work experience is in theatre. What else can I do with that experience when theatre isn’t being produced right now? I don’t want to work anywhere else but I may have to,” he said, adding he hopes he’ll be back in the prop shop before things reach that stage.