Northwestern Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020
PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINCivic Theatre of Allentown’s Nineteenth Street Theatre anchors Allentown West End Theatre District. PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINCivic Theatre of Allentown’s Nineteenth Street Theatre anchors Allentown West End Theatre District.
PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINNineteeth Street Theatre marque states “Be Safe Stay Healthy.” PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINNineteeth Street Theatre marque states “Be Safe Stay Healthy.”

Coronavirus closings: Civic Theatre dark, artistic staff laid off

Friday, March 27, 2020 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

The staff of Civic Theatre of Allentown has been laid off and the anchor of Allentown’s West End Theatre District is closed.

Civic Theatre has launched a campaign, #IAMCIVICTHEATRE, to raise funds for operating expenses to reopen the historic theater which produces plays and musicals, has a children’s theater school, an art gallery, and screens arthouse, foreign and classic films.

The layoffs and closing during the 92nd season of the Lehigh Valley art-deco landmark that spearheaded the 19th Street area business, restaurant and entertainment renaissance is apparently an unintended consequence of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 16 order for nonessential businesses to close and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 persons for 15 days as of March 16 to mitigate the community spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Dr. Barry Glassman. 2nd Vice President of Civic Theatre of Allentown Board of Directors, confirmed the layoffs and Civic Theatre closing in a March 21 phone interview with The Press.

“We did what we needed to do to assure ourselves that when the world approaches normalcy again, we’re going to be in a position to continue our mission as well, if not better, than we were accomplishing it,” Glassman said.

Laid off are seven full-time Civic staff members, including the artistic team of William Sanders, Civic Theatre Artistic Director; Will Morris, Associate Artistic Director-Production Manager, and Sam Roff, Technical Director-Scenic Designer-Facilities Manager, as well as Shirley Kline, Managing Director; Lauren Matthews, Marketing and Community Engagement Director; Sue Sneeringer, Business Manager, and Darlene Mozeko, Box Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator.

Another full-time position at Civic, that of Director of Development, is unfilled with interviews begun, following the resignation about one month ago of Robert Laconi.

Two part-time staff members are laid off: Suzanne Baltsar, Film Manager, and Christine Zondervan, Graphic Designer.

Approximately 12 to 15 hourly employees who sell tickets, staff concession stands and are responsible for other duties at Civic’s Nineteenth Street Theatre and Theatre514, are laid off.

“These people are truly part of our family. This has been truly painful,” said Glassman.

On March 12, Civic Theatre announced the Lehigh Valley premiere of “Silence! The Musical,” March 13 - 21, Theatre514, is postponed until April 3 - 11.

“Here’s the sad part,” said Glassman. “‘Silence’ was sold out before the run, to the point, that we added two performances.”

Also postponed at Civic: “Frozen Jr.,” April 2 - 5, to April 23 - 26, Main Stage, Nineteenth Street Theatre, featuring Civic Theatre School actors; the film series, “Exhibition on Screen: Easter in Art,” April 9 - 12; “Monty Python Film Series,” April 11 - 25, and the musical-comedy, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” May 1 - 17, to June 5 - 21, Main Stage, and the “Tonys & Tapas” benefit, June 7. The play, “Significant Other,” June 19 - 28, Theatre514, is apparently canceled.

Glassman said Civic Theatre could reopen quickly if and when the nonessential business ban is lifted.

“Once we know that more than 10 people can meet, ‘Silence’ can be rehearsed and put up in a week,” said Glassman. “The ‘Silence’ cast vowed to return.

“They [Civic staff] have to work five or six weeks before we can put on a show. We need to raise funds for operations.”

Glassman said laid-off Civic staffers can apply for unemployment compensation. “It was in their best interest that we did this,” Glassman said of the layoffs.

“We’re a professional community theater, but because of the professional part of that we carry an overhead that most community theaters don’t carry.

“We’re proud of how we’ve been able to raise those salaries to provide livable wages and to provide health-care without contributions from our staff.

”It’s one thing to have a gorgeously-restored theater [Nineteenth Street Theatre], but with it comes expenses.

“On top of that, we have another theater [Theatre514] and administrative offices, and with that comes expenses.

“Our staffing costs alone are higher than the budgets of most community theaters,” Glassman said.

The staff layoff decision was made during March 17 and 19 meetings by the Civic Theatre Executive Committee, which included Maria DeFebo-Edwards, Civic Theatre Board President; JoAnn Wilchek Basist, 1st Vice President; Dr. Barry Glassman, 2nd Vice President; Michelle LaWall, 3rd Vice President; Douglas Downing, Treasurer; Abigail M. Martin, Secretary; Sharon Lee Glassman, President Emeritus, and Joseph V. Kochanasz, former treasurer.

After the committee’s decision, the board of directors was informed.

The Civic board includes Aliette Abo, Dr. Robert D. Barraco, Frank Facchiano, Shirley Kline, Joseph V. Kochanasz, Marilyn Marles, Elizabeth Massa, Elizabeth Meade, Rebecca Price, Lauren Rabin, William Sanders and Ray Starner.

Glassman said on March 21, “The past 24 hours have been really busy with securing Civic’s buildings.

“There are a bunch of us who will be working to raise funds so that we’ll be ready to open when we can,” Glassman said.

Civic Company Member Kathleen Oswalt created the #IAMCIVICTHEATRE branding.

Civic is continuing its “Kapital for Kids” campaign to revamp the Nineteenth Street Theatre second-floor rehearsal studio; “Name a Seat “ campaign, and its “The Next Act: Setting the Stage for the Future” $5.5-million Capital Campaign, kicked off Nov. 23, 2016.

Following extensive restoration and renovation of Nineteenth Street Theatre, Civic reopened Oct. 12 - 28, 2018, with its production of the musical, “Billy Elliot,” with music by Elton John, one month after the superstar’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” world tour began Sept. 8, 2018, PPL Center, Allentown.

Civic Theater of Allentown, founded in 1927, moved to Nineteenth Street Theatre, a 1928 art deco movie palace, in 1957.

Civic Theatre’s web site, under “Our Story,” states:

“As a professionally staffed, year-round, non-profit theater with roots in its community and excellence as its primary objective, Civic has proudly served the area for 90 years. We look forward to another 90 years of presenting locally produced first class theatre, showing the finest independent films, and bringing the best performing arts instruction possible to the young people of the Lehigh Valley.”

Information: Civic Theater of Allentown, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown;; 610-432-8943