As we celebrate the triumphs of the 2021-22 theatre season—of which there were many, against all odds—we must also pay homage and bid farewell to the theatre companies and organizations that have unfortunately shut their doors and put on their last performances. What follows is an admittedly incomprehensive list of those organizations we will all deeply miss.
Playwrights in New York and throughout the country mourned the closure of THE LARK, a Manhattan-based theatre development center founded in 1997. With its goal to “discover and develop new voices for the American theatre,” The Lark worked to support the careers of emerging playwrights for two-and-a-half decades. Many of its developmental programs were rehomed to other New York-based theatres, including Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Queens Theatre, WP Theater, New York Stage and Film, Second Stage Theater, and Manhattan Class Company, as well as to the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, MN. The Lark also donated their technical equipment to MCC Theater in an effort to support MCC’s educational and public engagement programming.
Another significant loss to the theatre community was the dissolution of the Sundance Institute’s THEATER LAB, which was restructured to be combined with the Film Music and New Frontier Lab Programs to create a single interdisciplinary lab. Sundance has paused all of their program activity for the coming year with no concrete plans to resume in the future.
Just outside of NYC in Philadelphia, 11th HOUR THEATRE COMPANY closed its doors after producing musical theatre for seventeen seasons. “Although [we] may no longer be a part of the ongoing work in the arts landscape of Philadelphia, we are proud to have been part of our city’s cultural legacy,” the theatre company wrote in a Facebook post. “We are forever indebted to the creativity, fellowship, and friendship that our collaborators graciously extended to us over the years. It is the thing we will miss most of all.” The theatre received the June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theater in 2013 and a New Theatre Works Initiative grant by the Independence Foundation in 2016. The company remains hopeful, “look[ing] forward to the infusion of 11th Hour’s energy into exciting new opportunities that are on the horizon!”
Uprising Theatre Company, located in the Twin Cities, also shuttered after six years. “Although Uprising’s work is finished, the essential work of centering the voices of talented trans and nonbinary artists continues,” the company’s website now reads. “Our Founder and Artistic Director Shannon TL Kearns has devoted his life to supporting the community of transgender and gender nonconforming people artistically and spiritually. His work will continue through other creative projects, and his active advocacy for inclusion of marginalized voices in the arts remains central to his life’s work.”
The Old Creamery Theatre, Iowa’s longest running professional theatre company, shuttered on its 50th birthday in 2021. Despite receiving a federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, the company was unable to stay afloat after COVID shut its doors in March 2020. The Old Creamery offered six Main Stage shows each year, adding four annual productions for young audiences starting in 2007. The theatre also offered studio shows, roadshows, and a children’s writing contest and summer camp. “Old Creamery Theatre extends their heartfelt thanks to the public for 50 years of support, engagement, and dedication,” wrote the company’s Board of Directors. “A non-profit organization is a reflection of the community it serves, and Old Creamery has been supported by the finest staff, volunteers, talent, and patrons for 50 years. The memory of the artistic impact of the live theatre experience will always be treasured.”
Mercury Theatre Company, which was founded 23 years ago and had been operating at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, OH, for the past twelve years, was also forced to shut their doors. In an email to the community, Mercury founding artistic director Pierre Brault wrote, “This time last year, I sent you a letter filled with hope for the future of our company… I never imagined that twelve months later, having just lost our home at Notre Dame, I would be sending another to announce its closure.” He continued, “But here we are. And I still have hope. I have hope for the future of the Cleveland theatre community.”
Out of Box Theatre, established in Atlanta in 2012, has announced an “intermission,” writing on their website: “We don’t know for sure what the days ahead have in store for us. And to plan it all out now seems to be as daunting as trying to figure out just what the play will bring us after the intermission.”
Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor, MI had to cancel their 2021 and 2022 Michigan Playwrights Festival, and it is unclear if and when it will return.
In San Jose, CA, Northside Theatre Company bid farewell to their community after 43 years of operation. The theatre, which was able to operate rent-free as part of San Jose’s Neighborhood Center Partner Program, was met with termination of their contract with San Jose’s Parks and Recreation Department due to COVID closures and the restriction of in-person gatherings.
Our Southwest Rep John Perovich shared four Arizona-based theatres that lost their spaces: Laughing Pig Theatre in Mesa, Aside Theatre Company in Phoenix, Space 55 in Phoenix, and B3 Theater in Phoenix. “These theatres are small, nonprofit companies that support alternative theatre and new works, particularly those by local writers,” John wrote in an email. “Without their firm presence, we can feel that the entire landscape of new plays and new play development has changed in our community.”
Laughing Pig, Space 55, and B3 all shifted online during the past year, creating Zoom productions and offering educational workshops geared toward online content creation.
“Space 55 and Laughing Pig Theatre are in search of new homes,” John explained. “B3 Theater has recently begun live productions again, as a nomadic company, securing any space that they can as they continue to produce bold, brazen, and brilliant theatre.”
Aside Theatre Company, led by Nathaniel J. Burns, shifted its energies into film. “I am looking for screenwriters or playwrights willing to have their works adapted by me for the screen,” Burns shared with John. “I’ve produced four feature movies since the pandemic. I’ve also brought some of my interns along for the ride, some people who have trained at and helped Aside Theatre Company... I still aim to continue to provide artistic and creative opportunities for artists and creators that challenge the paradigm, and I’m still looking for the right building to make our stand in this new era of live theatre.”
These are just some of the organizations we’ve lost in the past year, and the sad truth is that we will likely lose more. But there is also a resounding sentiment of hope for the future and faith in the perseverance of artistic spirit throughout theatre communities across the country. As Mercury Theatre’s Pierre Brault wrote, “I have hope for the artists who will continue to inspire each of us through their work. And I have hope that one day, we will sing together again.”