As board members and volunteers of the Camille Playhouse gathered last week wearing face masks to deep clean and organize the whole building, President Martie DiGregorio said the reopening of the local theater is still uncertain.
Worried about the safety of visitors, staff and actors, DiGregorio said that while the board members are talking and finding ways to safely open, they don’t see it happening in the near future. With COVID-19 cases increasing across the community, they want to play it safe.
“We don’t want to rush it, we want to be safe for the people on stage, for the people watching the show, and so, if we have to wait a few more months then we wait a few more months,” she said. “We are going to be ready and we are going to come back stronger than ever.”
But safety concerns are not the only problem the local theater is facing, without the regular spring and summer income streams it would get during the seasons, when hundreds of community members would attend with their families to enjoy a play while eating popcorn and chocolates they would buy inside, the playhouse is also facing economic problems.
The playhouse created a Go Fund Me in April that has, as of press time, raised $18,502 to help fund basic operations and to ensure the ability of the theater to start up operations again when possible.
“We are humbled by all the support that we’ve received on Facebook, personally, in the mail, telephone calls; the majority of the community support Camille and are saddened by the state of Camille that we had to close, so we are very confident and hopeful that they will help us. We did start a Go Fund Me about two months ago and it’s up there,” DiGregorio said.
“The city is helping us too, they have come out, they have done an assessment and they are going to see how much they can help us with and we are very thankful for that.”
As shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the playhouse released all part-time employees in late March as part of cost-cutting measures and in April they came to a mutual agreement to end the employment contract with the executive artistic director effective May 15.
“It was hard but it was not a stretch to think that that would happen, we are not the only ones in this globe that had to dismiss their staff. Bottom line, we have no money to pay, we calculated, the treasurer and Bruno (Zavaleta) got together and budgeted out and May 15 was all we could pay, and so we had to tell them,” DiGregorio said.
“It was, of course, hard, they have been part of us for four years but we kept thinking that it’s about the building, it’s about the Camille, it’s about the legacy, it’s about the tradition. A lot of us here, have experience as directors and obviously on stage so we could probably survive for a little while longer.”
Vice President Bruno Zavaleta said the theater is home for many artists who start at the Camille and end up leaving to act in New York and California. He said the history of the theater in this community is very important and it is unthinkable to see a Brownsville without the Camille.
“We want to keep the lights on, at this point it’s not about keeping the doors open, I’ve always said it’s about keeping the lights on, just making sure that we can survive getting through this down time and once we have the money in the reserves to have everything ready to go, when everyone feels safe to come, then I think we will hit the ground running,” he said.