It was supposed to be a time of celebration at the Pear Theatre in Mountain View. Tickets to the opening weekend of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," based on the popular novel, were selling well. Theatergoers, cast and crew alike were looking forward to the reception planned for Friday, March 13.
Instead, a day before the scheduled event, new Executive Artistic Director Sinjin Jones found himself alone at the theater, answering emails and calls from disappointed patrons.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the California Department of Public Health had released new guidelines earlier that day recommending that mass gatherings maintain "social distancing" of 6 feet between attendees.
In the intimate Pear space, with around 80% of seats already booked, that simply wouldn't be possible. So, Jones and the Pear board made the difficult decision to cancel opening weekend, reception and all. By the following day, Santa Clara County had banned gatherings of more than 100 people. And on the following Monday, Santa Clara was among six Bay Area counties to issue a stay-at-home order limiting all activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential need.
"It sucks, but it's the right thing to do," Jones told the Weekly. "People are being really lovely about understanding that it's in everyone's best interest. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. We just want to make sure we're on top of it."
Jones said he is holding out hope that the show might be able to go on at a later date, but the nonprofit will take "a pretty big financial hit" regardless.
"It's not even about money for us. We've worked hard; we think the show is great," he said.
Even if the production does eventually make it to the stage in the future, "There's no way we're going to get the number through the door to see the show that we would have otherwise," he said.
Ticket holders have been given the options of getting a refund or donating the ticket cost back to the Pear.
"So far, we have had a good number of folks who have chosen to donate their tickets. It's a nice feeling," he said. "We can only hope that if and when this production gets up and running, the patrons are still as excited to see the show. Right now, the health concerns are going to far outweigh that."
Regardless of what happens, "We will continue to pay anyone involved with the show what they're owed, whether the show opens or not," Jones said, adding that the people working behind the ticket counter and at concession stands are a mix of staff and volunteers.
Though the organization will suffer financially, "Emotionally, the actors and the crew have been most impacted," he said. "It's a little bit heartbreaking to be working so hard on a show and then to have it be ripped out from underneath people. We have a phenomenal cast; they've been really thoughtful and kind during this whole process."
As news of the coronavirus pandemic has steadily spread and escalated, he said, the possibility of having to cancel performances became very real, very quickly.
"It wasn't a surprise, but that doesn't make it less painful. We have to keep repeating the mantra that we want to do what's best in terms of health," he said.
Jones said they have discussed other options for presenting the production, including recording or livestreaming performances, but due to the complications involved with theater copyrights, it is not feasible at this time.
As he worked alone in the thoroughly sanitized theater last week —"I don't think it could smell any more like cleanser" — Jones said he was putting some things, including grant proposals, plans for an upcoming season gala and ticket sales for next season, on hold to concentrate on answering patrons' questions and handling ticket issues.
"It's quite the whirlwind," the Redwood City resident said. Since joining the Pear in January, curve balls such as the coronavirus and California Assembly Bill 5, which puts new restrictions on freelance workers, have been unexpected challenges.
"It's part of the work. As long as I feel confident we're being responsible, it's all worth it in the end," he said.
Update: Since this article was published, The Pear Theatre has announced plans to livestream "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" from May 1-9.
This profile originally appeared in the March 20 print edition of the Weekly and is part of our ongoing series, "Ordinary people, extraordinary times," capturing the stories of locals during the coronavirus crisis. Read more of their stories through the links below:
To view the series on one page, visit multimedia.paloaltoonline.com.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.