Seattle Rep Is Laying Off Most Of Its Artistic Staff


Seattle Rep, the city’s preeminent regional theater company, is eliminating 17 staff positions over the course of the next several months, including the majority of its artistic, arts engagement and Public Works departments. 

According to Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann, the company will also combine, add or fill several additional positions in the coming months, resulting in a net loss of 13 full-time jobs — a reduction in numbers from 108 to 95, or 12% of the staff.

“The whole industry has been really struggling coming out of the pandemic, and we’re certainly not immune to any of these forces at the Rep,” Herrmann said. “Expenses are sky high, our subscribers are not fully back yet, and that’s caused a big gap between revenue and expense that has really pushed a lot of organizations to the brink.” 

Subscriptions to the Rep are still hovering just below half of prepandemic numbers, Herrmann reported, with 2023-24 subscription revenue landing about $200,000 short of goal. (Single-ticket sales for the season are right on track so far.)

Adding to the financial challenges, the Rep’s annual fund, its general-purpose fundraising campaign, is projected to land about $600,000 short of its goal, Herrmann said, largely due to the end of government COVID relief grant programs. That leaves the Rep with a combined fundraising and subscription revenue shortfall of $800,000 for the fiscal year, which ends June 30. But by managing expenses, and with a pending draw from its reserve, the Rep is currently projecting an operating deficit of $335,000 this season, Herrmann said, which keeps the organization near its budgeted loss of $297,000 for the season. 

The layoffs, Herrmann said, aren’t a measure to close any current-year fiscal gap, but rather a strategy for reducing annual expenses into the future. 

The departments hardest hit by layoffs initially, Herrmann said, are the development department, which oversees fundraising operations and is losing three positions (two will be added in the future); and the previously five-person artistic staff, which handles tasks like season planning, new play development and casting. The entirety of the artistic staff is being let go (or in the case of one vacant role, not filled), other than Artistic Director Dámaso Rodríguez, who joined the Rep in July 2023. A newly created role — artistic programs manager — will be hired in the coming months, and two directing/artistic programs apprentices (part of the Rep’s educational Professional Arts Training Program) will be hired for the duration of the upcoming season. In addition, artistic contractors will be hired on a project basis.

The Rep is also pausing most community and education programs, including its Public Works Program, which works with community groups year-round and presents an annual production on the Rep mainstage featuring community members alongside professional actors. The Rep’s new-play development program will end in its current form, though developing new work will remain a priority, Herrmann said, and the Rep’s 2024-25 budget currently includes funding to support three to four new-play workshops next season.

Though “it looks like we’ve cut all of this staff and so we’re cutting all of this community programming, in fact,” Herrmann said, community engagement, youth education and arts engagement are “not going away, we’re just going to deliver it differently.” 

Herrmann said many of the laid-off staff members may continue to work with the Rep, but on a contractual or project-by-project basis. This upcoming season, he said, “really represents sort of a pause and a reset,” with a strong focus on experimentation, trying new things and seeing what sticks and what is sustainable. 

The Rep’s fall 2024 production of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” for example, will feature (according to the Rep’s website) “dozens of community guest stars” and be a test balloon of sorts, to try out a new model of making theater with community participation after eight years of Public Works. 

The Rep is focusing its resources on “maintaining a robust, seven-play season,” Herrmann said. “And that requires moving some resources to that area to bolster that.”

Six of the next season’s seven shows are going to be produced in-house, he said, as opposed to the many coproductions, and presentations of shows created elsewhere, seen at the Rep in recent seasons. And so, he said, the Rep’s technical crews and shops are going to be on seasonal contracts for anywhere from 45 to 50 weeks next year — “a big change from prior years when we’ve employed them on a project-by-project basis, and it might be just 20 to 30 weeks of work that they’re getting.” The theater believes this move also creates potential revenue opportunities by supporting its ability to rent out its spaces to other arts organizations and to attract more touring productions.

The Rep has “a different kind of runway than many organizations,” with an endowment to rely on and a reserve fund, Herrmann said. So the company has continued to invest in putting full seasons on stage since reopening after the height of the pandemic, in the hopes that strategy would bring audiences back sooner. But after three years of that, he said, it’s clear that recovery is going to take a lot longer. 

“It’s awful,” he said of the layoffs. “Nobody wants to do this. We’ve done our best to try to avoid it, but at a certain point you’ve just got to stare reality in the face and say, ‘OK, we have to make some adjustments now to avoid a lot of pain down the road.’”

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This story has been updated to clarify that the development department, which is losing three positions, will also have two positions added in the future, and that Seattle Rep is not eliminating its Public Works Program but is pausing it to see how it might evolve into a more sustainable model.



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