With performances disrupted, Prescott Center for the Arts innovates to serve patrons and community

With performances disrupted, Prescott Center for the Arts innovates to serve patrons and community

Prescott Center for the Arts contest winner

Winners of the Prescott Center for the Arts' 2020 Young Playwrights Festival received their certificates in the mail after the program pivoted to a virtual format due to COVID-19. The festival aired on the center's YouTube channel.

by Alexandra Conforti, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

February 17, 2021

As they say in the theater business, “The show must go on!” And that is exactly what Robyn Allen, executive director of Prescott Center for the Arts, promised her volunteers, patrons and actors, even through all the social distancing and mask mandates that came with 2020-21. Despite COVID-19 canceling shows and postponing performances, the nonprofit organization used the pressures of the pandemic to create opportunities for engagement and innovation so that communities could still experience all facets of the arts, safely.

Prescott Center for the Arts (PCA) offers classes and workshops for the community to learn more about the performing arts. With over 2,000 volunteer opportunities annually, they provide service to the community through entertainment and art-related resources. PCA serves youth actors, families and veterans of the arts, and is dedicated to keeping the experience of the arts alive.

But with plays canceled, in-person program auditions on hold, and a quickly depleting operation fund, Laine Murphy, business manager of PCA, said they were left with the task of finding new ways to keep the spirits and attitudes of their participants elevated. They began by converting their arts center into a service center for the community, dubbed “PCA Serves.” With this new initiative, volunteers organized welfare checks for over 6,000 PCA patrons and community members, offering food, medication and support during the ongoing uncertain times and stay-at-home orders. For those interested in getting the COVID vaccine, PCA also sprang into action by helping individuals get registered quickly.

“We were able to partner with a local doctor’s office and provided them volunteers for drive-thru COVID-19 testing before they were able to find staffing,” Murphy said. “So our volunteers were helping with all the non-medical parts that are essential to organizing drive-thru testing.” PCA also took part in collecting and distributing food to local food banks during a time when most shelves were bare.

“We’ve been able to reach back out to our community and support them the way they’ve supported us for the last 50 years and that was probably the proudest thing about all of this for me,” Murphy said.

Additionally, the organization converted their theatre's stadium seating to socially distanced cabaret seating, following the CDC health and safety guidelines. “I did everything I could to learn how we could safely open again one day,” Allen said. “Many other organizations and performing arts buildings were following these arrangements as well.” Allen said she thinks that this new seating will end up being permanent, and outside concerts will continue in the future.

Last summer, a month after beginning a fundraising campaign, PCA received $3 million from an anonymous donor. This amount nearly funded their entire capital campaign project, which will include a 99-seat studio theatre to help expand the youth program with art and media classrooms, rehearsal space, and an outdoor amphitheatre.

“It was unbelievable,” Allen said. “We’ll really be able to go back to our mission, which is education.”
Programs like the Family Theatre program and the Young Playwrights Festival were canceled in-person due to the pandemic, but that did not stop PCA from utilizing their online resources. For the Youth Scholarship Competition, students had initially signed up before anyone went into quarantine. They found a way to continue the competition by asking students to submit videos online of their performances. The winners were selected virtually. The 2020 Young Playwrights Festival also continued remotely; the youth winners sent in pictures showing off their certificates once they received them via mail. The program was also aired virtually rather than by live performance, and was posted on the center’s YouTube channel.

Murphy said that through their YouTube channel, PCA was also able to put together a weekly show replaying their previous professionally recorded performances for audiences to view for free.

“In 2020 we were going to show them everything we got, and what we found out was the best thing that we had was our community,” Allen said. “We had the ability to partner with more businesses, partner with more people and work together and that kind of collaboration will be with us forever.”

In April, PCA plans to reopen the theatre with the performance of a two-man show titled “Red,” with actors and a director who have been “continually quarantining and associating together in safe measures,” Murphy said, in order to provide a safe in-person performance. Utilizing the new cabaret-style setup, the audience must also wear masks and follow proper sanitizing and social distancing mandates.

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