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The Muny Calls Off 2020 Season Due To The Coronavirus, Faces $4 Million Deficit

The Muny box office sells tickets for its 100th season, which has drawn criticism for its production of "Jerome Robbins' Broadway." June 30, 2018
Brian Heffernan | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo
The box office at the Muny will remain closed this season. The theater in Forest Park canceled its slate of 2020 productions because of the coronavirus.

The Muny is canceling its 2020 season because of the coronavirus. 

Its leaders concluded that the theater could not safely offer performances while observing social distancing practices that are meant to slow the spread of the virus. By skipping the season, the theater in Forest Park will incur a $4 million budget deficit. 

Large venues with coronavirus safety protocols approved by the city’s Department of Health are permitted to reopen as of today.

Managing Director Kwofe Coleman said the organization will avoid layoffs for its year-round staff of 35 people, but it won’t employ the 800 to 900 seasonal employees it typically takes on during the summer. These workers range from actors to crew members to venue staff.

“To produce seven large-scale shows, it just takes a lot of people,” Coleman said. “Historically we’re proud of employing so many people in this community, so this is yet another one of those difficult results of this pandemic.”

In April, the Muny sketched out a shortened season beginning in July, in the event that restrictions on large gatherings are lifted and it is possible for masses of people to safely attend shows there. The outdoor theater seats up to 10,000 patrons. 

But every element of the production cycle is hampered by social distancing requirements, from rehearsals for large-cast musicals to moving crowds into and out of the venue.

“The sad reality is that there is simply no way to overcome the obstacles this pandemic has presented while ensuring the safety of our audience, staff, artists and community,” Muny board chair Louis A. Cella said in a statement. 

Even as businesses gradually reopen in the region, leaders of performing arts organizations remain cautious. Last week, the Rep announced that it would delay the opening of its 2020-2021 season to at least December. Smaller performing arts organizations are watching closely as Kranzberg Arts Foundation waits to reopen its venues, including the Grandel and Marcelle theaters. 

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival plans to perform “Much Ado About Nothing” in Forest Park in August and September. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has rescheduled some shows for August. But the trend among arts organizations has been a steady stream of postponements and cancellations since St. Louis and St. Louis County began imposing restrictions on public gatherings in March. 

To deal with the budget deficit, Muny leaders are asking season ticket holders to consider forgoing refunds, and for corporate sponsors to keep their support intact even as the theater stays dark. They have also hit pause on the theater’s capital campaign, for which they’ve raised $85 million so far.

The Muny is one of the largest and most prominent arts organizations in the region, with a current annual budget of $21,011,807. This will be the first summer with no shows at the Muny site since even before the theater’s inaugural season in 1919. An organization of local theater patrons began sponsoring shows at the location three years earlier.

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.