“Well, our entire staff has been laid off and all of the new hires we were looking forward to bringing on this spring have been put on the backburner until further notice,” said Lloyd, the executive director of HART. “Every performance we had on the calendar has been postponed, but we don’t even know when those shows may take place, if they even do — everything is up in the air right now.”
This coming weekend would have been the 2020 opening for the mainstage series in the Performing Arts Center building. But, due to the current Coronavirus Pandemic and nationwide mandates prohibiting large gatherings and stage productions, HART remains in a holding pattern until normalcy might return.
“The best-case scenarios say society may reopen in a couple months, and with treatments that may work. Worst-case scenario is that nothing changes and we’re closed for the rest of the year,” Lloyd said. “But, even if things do open up, how much longer after that would people feel comfortable coming to a packed theater to see a show? It’s one thing to be seated far apart at a restaurant, it’s another thing to go into a theater and be seated next to somebody.”
Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, HART has evolved organically from humble beginnings into one of the finest theater organizations in Southern Appalachia and beyond, winning numerous accolades along the way for its programming and development.
“This theater has made Waynesville a way more cosmopolitan community than almost any other mountain town,” Lloyd said. “There are so many incredible people who have moved here because of HART, and so many people from the community that have supported us and helped us grown from the start.”
With tens of thousands attending performances throughout the year, the economic impact of HART on Haywood County is around $3 million. That monetary force is something not lost on local and regional art organizations and art enthusiasts who look at the theater as a beacon of cultural and economic significance.
“We play a huge role in the community. When people come to buy a ticket and see a show, they eat at the nearby restaurants and stay at the hotels,” Lloyd noted.
When HART is fully operational, its monthly costs are covered by ticket sales. But, without people coming through the doors, the property maintenance and insurance bills have been drying up whatever savings the organization had in its rainy-day fund.
“It would be a devastating loss to the community if HART disappeared because of financial struggles due to the pandemic,” Lloyd said. “Though we’re in a better spot than most arts organizations, we’re still having trouble paying the bills and keeping the property running.”
Lloyd is grateful for the recent generous donations of several local residents and loyal theatergoers, but he stresses the importance of a longtime endowment and sustained larger donations that have remained elusive for HART.
“I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life building this theater, and suddenly it has the potential of disappearing. And without the support of these donations, this organization would just go away,” Lloyd said solemnly. “We’re trying to make ends meet, and also have enough money be able to put a show on whenever ‘this’ ends and we’re able to reopen.”
And even though, at 66, Lloyd has no plans to retire in the near future, the pandemic has shifted the trajectory of his life and career.
“I just signed up for Social Security, though I had planned on waiting until I was 70,” Lloyd said. “My hope is that when HART comes back, I can return on half-salary and use the other half of my salary to hire somebody else.”
Stepping out of his office in the Fangmeyer Theater, Lloyd walked across the brick patio to the neighboring Performing Arts Center building. Turning on the lights in front of the mainstage, the massive space is eerily quiet, with stage props still in place from rehearsals for upcoming productions yet to be rescheduled.
“Though I have been enjoying some of this down time to take longer walks and slow down a little bit, I really miss that invigorating feeling I get when all of the stuff is going in here and everything’s in rehearsal,” Lloyd said.
Finding a seat in the auditorium, Lloyd is surrounded by hundreds of empty chairs, each normally filled with somebody that values HART, who believes in the sheer awe and splendor that is singular to theatrical productions. Taking an inventory of the silent rows, Lloyd grinned for a moment and pondered the future.
“I think when [the shelter-in-place and mandates] are lifted, and our audiences are once again ready to come back, there will be this pent-up hunger to get away from it all and see a production — it’s going to be magical,” Lloyd said.
Want to help?
If you would like to make a donation to the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, visit www.harttheatre.org and click on the “Donate Today” button.