You’d be hard-pressed to find a title for a show more aptly named for this moment than “Denise Lee’s Pressure Makes Diamonds,” but fans will have to wait until April to catch the one-woman show in Fort Worth.
The show was scheduled to open at Circle Theatre on Jan. 13. Over the holiday break, Tim Long, the theater’s executive director, hoped the theater would be able to safely welcome patrons to the show.
A few days later, a positive COVID test within the production would upend those plans just as rehearsals were about to begin.
Many performing groups and venues hoped 2022 would be a fresh start, but the spate of new COVID-19 cases is bringing back the waves of uncertainty that crested at the beginning of the pandemic.
“I think, like everyone, our first thought was this might last a few weeks,” Jay Duffer, the managing director of Amphibian Stage in the Near Southside, recalled. “Then you got into it further, and you realized this is going to last a long time.”
Closing its doors in 2020 meant shutting off a significant portion of Amphibian’s revenue stream, but it also gave the theater room to experiment.
Amphibian found moderate success by pivoting to streaming.
How to protect yourself against the omicron variant:
Vaccines have been approved for everyone 5 and over and are available for free.
Tarrant County Public Health’s Dr. Kenton Murthy recommends N95 masks as the best option and surgical masks or doubling up on fabric masks as alternatives.
Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Federal, state and local authorities have not issued any new mandates limiting crowds or requiring businesses to scale back their operations, but public health officials still recommend avoiding large crowds when possible.
Testing sites are available throughout the county if you think you might have COVID-19.
Using a new platform allowed the theater to reach audiences in new places, including as far away as Australia, but it wasn’t a silver bullet.
Long stretches of Zoom meetings and virtual happy hours meant that audiences who were initially enthusiastic about online content succumbed to screen fatigue. Additionally the cost of filming, editing and producing high-quality online content added expenses rather than reducing them.
As ticket sales dried up, Amphibian was fortunate that several key donors — from foundations to individual supporters — increased their giving. Amphibian Stage offered patrons the option to get a refund for the 2020 season or roll their tickets over to the 2021 season; fewer than five people asked for their money back.
Duffer credits that generosity with Amphibian’s ability to keep paying actors and designers — to work streaming projects or make masks instead of their regular gigs.
The theater is back to hosting live performances, for now, and requesting that patrons wear masks.
Team members are fully vaccinated but still get tested between two to three times a week during productions as part of their contract with the Actors’ Equity Association.
Through a public health partnership geared toward nonprofits, the theater is able to access subsidized rapid tests. When PCR testing is required, kits and processing can cost between $7,000-10,000 per production, depending on frequency and number of people tested.
A few blocks away, Tulips FTW, a music venue co-owned by Jason Suder, Matthew Harber and Annette Marin, occupies the space previously inhabited by the Collective Brewing Project.
They signed their lease in February 2020, just a few weeks before the country partially shut down.
At that point, their money was invested in getting a new venue off the ground. They continued their renovations, reconfigured seating options and thought of new ways to stay solvent in the interim.
They tested a deli, and though Suder says he still daydreams about those sandwiches, they were losing money. They invested in their coffee service but struggled when bars could only operate at partial capacity.
When restrictions were lifted, supply-chain issues limited their offerings as they waited on shipments of new cups and Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
Suder estimates that COVID infections, whether contracted by their own staff, performers or the airline crews responsible for flying musicians across the country, led to 35 cancellations out of a planned 300 events.
Before the delta variant hit, they were able to eke out a few solid months. Now, they’re staring down omicron.
“It’s frightening – absolutely terrifying,” Suder said. He questions what will happen if there’s a major outbreak and how people might respond.
Projections are impossible to make at the moment, but he’s hedging on fewer disruptions. The venue has bills and a staff of 16 to pay, regardless.
“My hope is that this can kind of get put in our taillights, and we can come back to the joys of living — not just surviving,” Suder added.
Back at Circle Theatre, Tim Long expressed a similar sentiment, likening 2020 to a rollercoaster and 2021 to a rocketship, taking everyone for unexpected rides.
Despite the unknowns already plaguing 2022, the availability of vaccines and omicron leading to more mild illness make him hopeful.
Like Amphibian, Circle’s contributors helped bolster its budget.
When it had to temporarily close the theater and later open with a scaled-back season, local foundations and the national shuttered venue operators grant helped keep them afloat.
“We were incredibly blessed,” Long said ahead of the new year. “But now that we’re dealing with another variant, how long will that money hold off? I don’t have a good answer. That’s exactly why we have to take it day by day.”
Circle Theatre plans to reschedule Denise Lee’s show for April, but — like so much else at this moment — the exact dates are up in the air.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.