Marilynn Wick pictured at Costume World (photo courtesy of Sun-Sentinel)
Marilynn Wick described her journey through the coronavirus pandemic as a fiendish rollercoaster ride without any end in sight.
“You don’t know from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, month to month, what’s going to happen next,” she said. “It’s been a complicated financial struggle to get through the whole year. We’ve constantly been rediscovering how to stay alive enough so that we’re still around when the recovery comes.”
Ms. Wick is managing executive producer at The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum. Starting in 2005 as the largest supplier of theatrical costumes in the country, she invested over a million dollars of her own money. She took out a bank loan in 2013 to lease the building that once housed the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, which became her performing venue in addition to her vast costume warehouse. The theater had steadily prospered in ensuing years, hiring an average of 75 percent of its casts locally until 2020, when it ran into a buzzsaw called COVID-19.
“It’s been very challenging,” she said. “We had just opened ‘A Chorus Line’ when we had to shut down after only a couple of performances. That cost us a million, plus we’re off two million in subscriptions. We’ve got no money coming in. I’m the owner of this theater, and I’m responsible for everything that goes on in it. We can’t get royalties back for shows we weren’t able to produce last year. We rented a set, gave them half the money, couldn’t do the show, so they rented it to someone else, and we’re out of that money. We can get credit but can’t get the funds back.”
Although COVID did not directly touch Ms. Wick or her immediate family, she said she knows many people who contracted it, some of whom died.
“And we’re finding out many of our patrons died of depression associated with the stress that came with the disease,” she said. “You didn’t need to have COVID to be devastated by it.”
She added she, her staff, and the cast of her revived production of “A Chorus Line” had been vaccinated but confessed it would be at least two more years before her theater and costume businesses get back to normal. In the meantime, she’s doing her best to stay afloat by presenting cabarets in the theater lobby, which has attracted her loyal clientele. She needs an influx of government-sourced revenue but claims her nonprofit status has made it difficult to obtain that.
“As I am a 501(c)(3), I don’t qualify for many business grants,” Ms. Wick said. “But we do qualify for the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program and the Shuttered Venue Program, but this money is coming very slowly. We had to let 50 percent of our staff go, and the unemployment they’ve applied for is more than we can afford to pay. We also lost 50 percent of our subscribers. We’re hoping to lure them back with a strong season next year.”
That starts with her newly remounted, non-union production of “A Chorus Line,” slated to run from April 22-May 30, followed by a one-woman show featuring Cindy Williams of “Laverne and Shirley” called “Me, Myself and Shirley,” which will run June 10-27. “Mamma Mia” will initiate the fall season on Oct. 6. Ms. Wick didn’t elaborate beyond that, focusing instead on the shift she sees in other theaters opting to hire less expensive, non-union talent to make ends meet.
“There’s going to be a whole renaissance going on with technical support people and actors, especially because some are not going back to Actors Equity,” Ms. Wick said. “Many theaters are going to go non-Equity. I’ve been an Equity house ever since I opened my doors, and I’m brokenhearted about not continuing to be Equity because most of the talented people are Equity. But they’ve given us no plan to get things going with their union members again. Their program, even with vaccinations, is still very complicated and very expensive.”
She added she has “spent a fortune” making her theater COVID safe for both patrons and performers but is pushing for ways to survive as a non-union house economically.
“One way is with our cabaret series,” she said. “That series has been hugely successful, but we can only seat 60 people at a time.”
The lobby at The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum where the cabaret series is presented. (Photo C