Selma Arts Center suspends remaining mainstage productions for 2020

There will be no mainstage productions at Selma Arts Center for the remainder of 2020, a response to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, the company announced Tuesday.

Pictured above: Selma Arts Center’s last mainstage production was ‘Puffs.’ Photo: Selma Arts Center

However, the company says it is “suspending” the season, not canceling it. That leaves the door open for reinstating some productions later in the season, or even in 2021.

“We will continue to assess the situation and will rely on the advice of state and local officials to help determine when we can safely open our doors again,” the company said in statement posted on social media.

My take: Selma Arts Center has emerged in recent years as one of the leading theater companies in the greater Fresno area. With compelling programming that includes many popular new titles, the company is known for innovative direction and design, strong performances and a youthful vibe.

The local theater scene suffered a major loss with the closing of StageWorks Fresno at the end of the 2019 season, and I expected Selma in 2020 to take on an even greater influence in terms of prestige productions and attracting the cream of the casting pool. Major productions to come in the 2020 season included “Head Over Heels” (set to open June 12), “Hair” (Aug. 14), “Little Shop of Horrors” (Sept. 18), “The Rocky Horror Show” (Oct. 23) and “Zoot Suit” (Nov. 20).


Other theaters across the region and country have canceled seasons, but this is the first I know of among local arts organization to clear the calendar for all of 2020. Many companies structure seasons on an academic-year schedule, and the only publicly announced decisions I’m aware have to do with cancellations of the remainders of 2019-20 seasons. (Locally, this applies to Broadway in Fresno, the Fresno Philharmonic, the Fresno Master Chorale, Keyboard Concerts, and university and college-level performing arts.)

Good Company Players, Fresno’s premier community-theater company, works as Selma does on the calendar-year season model. So far, GCP has announced it will remain dark only as long as restrictions on public gatherings are in place.

Am I surprised by Selma’s decision to “suspend” all the way through 2020? Yes, a little.

I don’t know if it’s a prescient move that will be followed by a majority of other arts organizations in the weeks and months to come, or if the decision is premature. Then again, it costs money to plan and prepare for productions that could very well never be performed. These are unprecedented times, and I feel for those in the arts who are trying to keep their organizations afloat and also anticipate what life is going to be like in the near future.

I know that similar hard decisions are looming for the other arts organizations I mention above (and others) as they think about 2020-21 seasons. Even when the government lifts existing shelter-in-place orders, it’s hard to predict how consumers of all kinds (from diners and shoppers to performing-arts audiences) will respond to the opportunity to congregate once again.

One of the reasons that the Selma company went this route is because of its connection to the city of Selma, which owns the arts center. Municipalities are facing terrible budget crunches themselves, and it wasn’t possible for the company to spend money on a summer production, for example, if there were a chance it would never be realized, says Juan L. Guzman, vice chair of the Selma Arts Council.

“We hope that we can at least still put on some of these productions if things clear up later in the year,” he says. “But we are essentially a city entity, and we have to do what our city tells us. What they’re telling us is close the doors.”

In a follow-up statement, Guzman emphasized that the arts council and the city have a close working relationship.

“We trust the leadership of the city and are waiting to hear their update in the coming weeks so that we have a clearer idea of how to move forward on a case by case basis,” he says.

My final take: I worry that Selma’s momentum as a powerful theater force in the community could be slowed as a result of being dark for so long. For that matter, it’s a worry that applies to all our arts institutions. When it’s safe to do so, it’ll be crucial to support all live performance.

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More: Selma Arts Center says it is determined to keep the company’s presence front and center even with the absence of mainstage shows.

“You can expect SAC to announce a series of digital events, including live-streaming interviews with your favorite SAC artists, cast reunions, viewing parties, and many more surprises meant to keep your hearts full,” the company stated on social media.

Season ticket holders will have their memberships extended for an additional year. And, like all non-profit arts organizations during these troubled times, financial support is wholeheartedly welcomed.

Updated 5 p.m. Feb. 14 to add comments from Juan L. Guzman and expand on suspension vs. cancellation.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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