Houston Ballet reimagines its holiday repertoire as COVID-19 upends The Nutcracker.
Jim Nelson, Jesse (Jay) H. Jones II, Lynn Wyatt, Stanton Welch celebrating Houston Ballet's 50th anniversary in September 2019. (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Houston Ballet campaign co-chair Shawn Stephens chairs the 2014 Houston Ballet Ball with husband Jim Jordan. (Photo by Fulton Davenport)
With Houston Ballet's finances demolished by the COVID-19 pandemic, a capital campaign is underway.
Even more theater nights in Houston will be dark this fall as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc with budgets and performance schedules. Houston Ballet joins the chorus of the city’s performing arts groups announcing major cancellations and changes, including the company’s cash cow, The Nutcracker.
The much beloved ballet, which generates $5 million in revenue, “will not be performed as planned,” according to a release sent out.
“The organization hopes to hold its first in-theater performance with the Margaret Alkek Williams Jubilee of Dance on December 4, followed by a limited number of performances of a holiday special. Subscribers will receive more information about these changes via email.”
Canceling and reshuffling performances is not new to Houston Ballet, which had its inaugural run of disaster with Hurricane Harvey. That flood displaced the company for a year. However, layoffs and salary cuts are a new experience. Approximately 30 percent of full-time staff, largely in positions where they are unable to perform normal duties during the pandemic, are laid off until further notice, the Ballet’s statement noted. “Those remaining will see decreased wages, handled in tiers with the greatest pay cuts at the top of the organization.”
As a hopeful solution, the ballet has launched a $5 million fundraising campaign to re-employ artists and staff. To date, $1 million has been raised through the support of the Board of Trustees and a dollar-for-dollar challenge from the Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts. The campaign is being co-chaired by Jay Jones and Shawn Stephens, both longtime patrons of the company.
“Even so, the pandemic presents the most significant financial challenge Houston Ballet has ever faced,” notes Houston Ballet chief development officer Angela Lane. “We need community-wide support to emerge from this crisis.”
The nonprofit had already lost $1.3 million in revenue due to the cancellation of three ticketed productions.
“We’ve had to make difficult decisions for the season ahead, because of the prolonged COVID-19 crisis,” says Houston Ballet executive director Jim Nelson. “Every member of our Houston Ballet family will be affected at some point during the season. It’s paramount that we make these changes to safeguard the longevity of our organization.”
Since its founding 50 years ago, the company has grown from 16 dancers to 61, making it the fifth largest company in United States. Houston Ballet has a budget of $33.9 million.
As the team works on preparing solutions and multiple scenarios in a reimagined 2020-21 season, artistic director Stanton Welch adds, “We are not finished creating. . . We’ve demonstrated that time and time again. While the future is uncertain, this is not.
“We can and will bring high-quality art to this city through dance, whether you see it from the house of a theater or your living room couch.”