Seattle Opera is laying off two dozen people currently on furlough, citing ongoing pandemic challenges and a need to operate on a much leaner budget.
The company had furloughed 46 administrative staffers in June, after the $2.3 million loan it received under the Paycheck Protection Program ran out. In September, it cut six administrative positions, with dozens of employees remaining on furlough.
“We were hopeful that health conditions would improve and it would be safe to return to the theater in the first half of 2021,” Christina Scheppelmann, Seattle Opera’s general director, wrote in a letter to staff, subscribers and arts audiences. “Now, we see this is not the case. Live performances will likely not resume until next season. Because we must be a much leaner operation for the near future, we do not see a path to rehire the staff members who are currently furloughed. Nor do we believe we can keep them on furlough for more than a year. Thus, we will be laying off the remaining 24 people on furlough.”
That brings the company’s number of full- and part-time employees to 53, down from 88 prior to the pandemic, according to Seattle Opera spokesperson Gabrielle Nomura Gainor. The layoffs are mainly in the marketing and production departments.
As part of its reorganization, Seattle Opera is combining into one department its costume shop and its hair and makeup studio. The company has also slashed its budget for this 2020-21 fiscal year, setting it at $12 million — about half of its budget in pre-pandemic times.
Although concert halls and theaters are now allowed to open at 25% capacity or 200 people (whichever is less) in counties, such as King, in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s current reopening plan, Seattle Opera isn’t immediately returning to live performances before audiences at McCaw Hall.
“We are in discussions with McCaw Hall about when they will allow activity as we intend to return to performances there when permissible,” said Jane Repensek, Seattle Opera’s chief financial officer.
Since the pandemic started, the company has pivoted to presenting streaming stage productions, recitals and other digital offerings.