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Proctors collaborative proves integrity in handling COVID

Proctors Stage
Jesse King
Proctors Theatre

On Tuesday, Capital Repertory Theatre opens the musical “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s a re-creation of the original 1939 film that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy. It runs through December 24.

The show is directed by Capital Rep’s producing-artistic director, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. It will be the largest production at the company’s new theater at 251 North Pearl Street.

To her it is a sign of resilience, explaining that producing “The Wizard of Oz” is the final show that completes Capital Rep’s part of the bargain Proctors Collaborative made with its subscribers in 2020.

To everyone’s despair, in March of that year, the remainder of the Proctors and Capital Rep seasons were cancelled because of the COVID pandemic. Adding to the complications, subscription for the following season had already been sold and no one had any idea of what the future would look like. It was a time when many critical decisions had to be made.

In response to the crisis every member of Proctors Collaborative - which consists of Proctors in Schenectady, Cap Rep in Albany and Universal Hall in Saratoga Springs - offered subscribers four options for the cancelled shows. They could donate unused tickets to the theater, get a refund, take what they called a CollabCredit good for future shows at any of the venues.

The final choice was to hold on to their tickets and keep them until the theaters could produce them at a later date. The promise was they would reschedule the cancelled show titles when it was safe to do so. That meant subscribers had to trust the organization’s promise that they would keep their word.

In a recent telephone interview, Proctors CEO Philip Morris said the vast majority of subscribers held onto their tickets. “If they didn’t, we could have had severe problems,” he added.

“The Wizard of Oz” is the final carryover for Capital Rep. “Hadestown”, which plays Schenectady in March, completes the bargain Proctors made with subscribers.

Morris expressed great pride in giving their audiences what was promised. To him it was an ethical decision as well as a business choice. “A subscription is a sign of trust in what we do. We have to honor that trust. We owe people what we promise,” he said.

It wasn’t easy. Proctors deals with national tours, who Morris said, “They were living in la la land. They thought it was business as usual and everything would be back to normal in a month or two.” The entire process of dealing with COVID was so complicated Morris says, “I feel as if I had four careers in the last three years."

Morris had the foresight to realize the pandemic would be around longer than expected. He took a long range view of the pandemic and planned accordingly. Sounding humble, while acknowledging the uncertainty of the time, he said. ”Any right decisions I made were all by accident.”

Nonetheless, that wisdom bore fruit with the production of “The Irish and How They Got That Way,” which opened Capital Rep’s new theater in December 2021 It was the musical that was two days into its run when the government closed all theaters across the country in March 2020.

Making the revival more symbolic was that every member of the cast returned to be in the production. You could not make a more powerful statement than saying “We’re back and we kept our word,” says Mancinelli-Cahill.

Morris is quite candid in admitting that business still has not yet returned to previous levels, and mini-disasters can still strike.

There are other issues that still impact operations. Morris points out that the backstage testing measures and other mandated safety requirements add a substantial expense to all productions. Another expense is the number of understudies that are needed to feel comfortable putting on a show. This summer they lost a week of the musical “Jersey Boys” to COVID in the cast, proving that even having understudies doesn’t always alleviate a problem.

Proctors Collaborative is not the only theater company affected by COVID. Nor or they the only ones who acted honorably in the recovery process. However, that they are not the only organization that respected their subscribers does not diminish the fact that they acted with enormous integrity.

Keep this in mind during the next subscription campaign at any of our local theater companies.