Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s first-ever virtual Luminosity Gala, along with support from the community and a recent national grant, strengthen the Festival’s footing for current and future programming, despite an intermission summer season.
On March 30, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Festival announced the cancellation of its 2020 summer season, leading to an anticipated loss in ticket revenue of $1.1 million. Shortly thereafter the organization also postponed its annual May Luminosity Gala, the Festival’s largest fundraiser which supports its artistic and educational programs.
“Our passion is sharing and illuminating artistic beauty through live, professional theatre, and creating with this community the sense of connectedness and belonging gathering together in this way makes possible. We felt the one-two punch of the loss of most of our revenue and the loss of the art itself, as did every theatre nationwide,” says Patrick Mulcahy, Producing Artistic Director.
Mulcahy and the PSF staff pivoted the annual Luminosity Gala to a virtual event, capitalizing on the unique opportunities this format would present. The first-ever virtual Luminosity Gala livestreamed on multiple platforms on Sunday, July 12, with more than 750 viewers; a larger and more diverse audience than its in-person event partly due to its broader accessibility. PSF surpassed its original fundraising goal for the virtual event, raising more than $95,000 to sustain the Festival through this intermission season and to support the Festival’s educational programming.
The Festival’s educational programs benefiting from the event include the Linny Fowler WillPower Tour and the FreeWill program. The WillPower Tour travels to schools in the Tri-State Area and consists of a professionally directed 80-minute Shakespeare production, trained actor-teachers, and quality curriculum through workshops and other sessions for students. Since its inception in 2000, WillPower has toured 41 counties out of 67 in Pennsylvania, 187 schools and has reached more than 208,000 students in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The tour has also reached all seven middle and high schools in the Allentown School District. The FreeWill program offers free tickets and transportation to PSF’s summer children’s productions to community youth groups that benefit children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend a live professional theatre performance.
In addition to the funds donated during the gala in support of these educational programs, the Festival was recently awarded a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts Shakespeare in American Communities Grant. Arts Midwest, in partnership with the NEA, awards $1.7 million to support Shakespeare programs with theatre companies, schools, and the juvenile justice system.
The virtual gala featured performances by PSF luminaries, including Tony Award-winner and international opera star Paulo Szot, Broadway’s Dee Roscioli and Phoenix Best, and PSF veteran actors Brad DePlanche and Christopher Patrick Mullen. The virtual gala also included virtual support and recognition from several Lehigh Valley community leaders including Rev. James J. Greenfield, OSFS, President of DeSales University; Lee A. Butz, PSF sponsor, Honorary Board Member, and President of Alvin H. Butz, Inc. (a Festival sponsor); Judith A. Harris, Esq., President of the PSF Board and Partner at Norris McLaughlin; Laurie Hackett, Air Products; Ed Meehan, Executive Director of the Rider-Pool Foundation; and philanthropists Sam and Missy Saxton.
The Festival’s quest to keep the lights on was also supported by generous ticketholders. “While the Festival faces challenges ahead,” says Mulcahy, “we are so thankful to our patrons who donated more than $100,000 of their already-purchased tickets back to PSF. Arts organizations survive and thrive only with the generosity of donors and granting organizations. We are grateful for these gifts, which support the real beneficiary: this community.”
In further support of PSF’s community in the Lehigh Valley, 10% of the donations received during the live virtual event were directed to the Boys & Girls Club of Allentown. The virtual gala was sponsored by DeSales University, Air Products, American Bank, Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, Timothy E. Nolan and Kathleen Kund Nolan, Sam and Missy Saxton, Trammell Crow Company, and The Barbara Breslin/ Breslin Family Gala Décor Design Fund. The event was produced by Digital Feast.
Until theatre-goers can gather again, the Festival continues to engage patrons with its new online offerings, “At Home with PSF,” which includes a video series spotlighting conversations with PSF artists behind the scenes; and performance highlights, written features, resources, and more.