The Naples Players is a nationally-recognized community theatre. Founded in 1953, they fulfill their mission to enrich, educate and entertain the community through dozens of educational programs for adults and kids alike, children’s theatre, live concerts, residencies and comedy nights in addition to their regular performance season. A true community theatre, their 650 volunteers put in more than 65,000 hours per year.
How does an organization respond to a ban on gatherings of large numbers of people when their artistic medium requires such gatherings? We asked Executive Artistic Director Bryce Alexander about the adjustments Naples Players have made in order to reach out to and serve their community.
The Naples Players has called itself a “theatre for the community” since we were founded 67 years ago. It is this very creed that has kept The Naples Players operating – even in an augmented form – during these challenging times.
Like many people, our first impression of COVID-19 came from social media. So, too, did our first act of community service. The Naples Players utilizes more than 650 volunteers for more than 65,000 volunteer hours every year. After understanding that the theatre would have to shut its doors to performances, Resident Costume Designer Dot Auchmoody saw a Facebook post containing a pattern to build surgical masks. She quickly realized that this was a way the costume staff and volunteers could continue to utilize their skills. A call was placed to the local hospital, and an offer made to use any of our remaining bolts of fabric to create surgical style masks. The hospital requested 300. It was only a matter of days until the hospital called, needing as many masks as had already been created.
Combining the effort of the staff in alternating shifts at the theatre, volunteers were also able to contribute – and were given “take-home” kits to continue making masks at home. Word quickly spread about our efforts, and a local printing company offered to use their laser cutters to cut the fabric patterns of the masks. This collaboration allowed high-precision, high-output capacity of the masks while furthering our business relationships – all the while continuing to engage and train our volunteers. We continue to make masks today, providing them to hospitals, nursing homes, and others who may need them.
This effort was utilized in the scene shop, too: when Assistant Technical Director Chase Lilienthal realized he could use leftover plexiglass to create intubation boxes, a critical shield for protecting doctors and nurses when intubating patients. A simple pattern was built, and the boxes have become another added tool to help protect our community’s heroes.
At the same time, our Education Department began to think of the impact this crisis would have on students. Serving more than 1,200 students on-site in classes every year, we know that the social and imaginative access our programs provide our students would be critical to their at-home education. In only 1 week, all of the education programs, for every age and level, were modified and moved to electronic formats. Not only has this provided the students continuity and connection, it has inspired the theatre to evaluate ways to bring virtual classes to underserved populations in the future. Parents have been overwhelmingly thankful for the outlet this has provided. Adult students crave the voice the classes provide as well.
The Naples Players has made news in the past for creating a “Director of Community Wellness and Education” to connect arts education with wellness programs, and just this week provided 30 students with disabilities from the STARability Foundation a virtual improv class to discuss emotions and current events, hosted an “Improv for Isolation” class for 15 adults, and provided free virtual yoga on our social media platforms. These efforts will continue weekly. As April is National Poetry Month, we will be calling for poems related to COVID-19 to be submitted, and they will be given dramatic readings by local performers.
Finally, we’ve been able to utilize our technical departments and artists to create digital content that continues to promote the arts and engage with our community. Live-streaming concerts have been viewed by 5k+ people just this week, and virtual sing-a-longs and virtual cabarets have called on quarantined artists to submit their performances digitally.
The Naples Players could lose close to $500,000 to cancelled performances through June. Our endowment saw its value fall by more than $1.5m since this crisis began. Knowing the endowment funds exist for times of need, we’ve been standing strong to continue serving our community – and the community has responded. Subscriptions to next season continue to sell, small donations have been flooding in and online engagement has continued to allow us to spread the arts further than ever before.
The financial impacts of this shutdown will be deep. Reliance on the generosity of our community is going to be crucial. Most importantly, we know our patrons, donors, and volunteers are embracing our position as a theatre for community – and together we will all get through this.