Off-Broadway's The Public Theater has been forced to lay off 19 percent of its staff, around 50 employees, according to a report in The New York Times. The downtown company is the latest in a growing list of theatrical non-profits nationwide that are cutting costs in a continued struggle to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Artistic Director Oskar Eustis cites cost increases of 30 to 40 percent combined with an audience reduction of about 30 percent as the reasoning. Eustis also told the publication that the company does not intend to close any programs, though these layoffs follow a decision to put the company's Under the Radar Festival of experimental theatre and performance art on an "extended hiatus" that was revealed last month.
Theatregoers, however, can expect a reduction in programming. The company's flagship multi-theatre Astor Place venue will host five full productions in the upcoming season. The company presented 11 shows in the last full pre-pandemic season. As previously announced, Free Shakespeare in the Park will also not be held at the Delacorte Theater in 2024 to allow for renovations at the Central Park-housed venue, though Eustis tells the New York Times that the company plans on programming summer Shakespeare in alternate locations.
As the Public has struggled since the pandemic—this round of layoffs follows earlier layoffs in 2021—Eustis' compensation has come under fire, but he tells the Times that he will be "taking a significant reduction in salary," and that "nobody else would or should" have similar measures taken. Eustis did not reveal the amount of the reduction.
The Public's layoffs follow a recent 10 percent staff layoff at Los Angeles' Center Theater Group and a 13 percent layoff at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Both also dramatically reduced the amount of programming in their upcoming seasons.
A downtown institution, The Public Theater is generally considered a stalwart of the Off-Broadway scene and a fertile development ground for new work. Among the shows the company has developed and premiered prior to commercial runs are Hair, Take Me Out, A Chorus Line, Fun Home, Hamilton, and Broadway's current Here Lies Love, among many others.