MNM’s Battle to Stay Afloat in a Sea of COVID

Marcie Gorman knows a thing or three about overcoming adversity. Still, when the pandemic hit during preparations for MNM Theatre Company’s 2020 production of “Cabaret,” she admitted its effect left a devastating impact.

MNM Producer Marcie Gorman said the pandemic left her company “devastated.”

“The show had been fully cast, and we were already in rehearsals,” she said. “We were in the middle of getting our costumes together, and suddenly we had to shut down. I had to lay off 65 people.”

Ms. Gorman is executive producer and artistic director of MNM, which has been in operation since 2014 and primarily housed at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse in West Palm Beach. The company has mounted some 14 productions — all musicals — to rousing audience support and numerous Carbonell and Silver Palm awards.

“Most of my shows cost at least $200,000 to produce, and I had four shows planned for the 2020-2021 season, which we, of course, didn’t do,” she said. “Even if we’d broken even in our ticket sales, that’s about $1 million in lost business due to the pandemic.”

Ms. Gorman added she has applied for funding from the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operations Grant but has so far seen nothing.

“We did get disaster loan assistance, which must be paid back, and some help from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to be a forgivable loan,” she said. “We’re currently having a discussion with Bank of America over that. They’ve decided they’re not going to forgive it over discrepancies in the wording of the loan language. So I kept everybody working full time with me until January first, but now have just four core people who have stayed on part-time at an hourly rate, depending on how much they work in a given week.”

She added her financial relief so far has totaled only about $50,000, which is a drop in her bucket.

“My rent is $5,000 a month right off the bat,” she said. “And that doesn’t count utilities such as FPL and water. So we’re seriously upside down right now.”

To make matters worse, Ms. Gorman was ineligible to build a subscriber base while operating out of the Rinker Playhouse, which has left her with a dearth of donors to help see MNM through this challenging time. The powers that be at the Kravis Center have been slow to ensure MNM another entire season there, so she has found another home at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, just outside of Fort Lauderdale. She hopes to join forces with producer (and South Florida Theater Magazine publisher) Kevin Barrett to mount some productions over the coming winter season.

“Kevin asked me if I would be interested in taking a Broadway series, in season, which the Rinker never allowed me to do,” she said. “We’re looking to do three Broadway musical comedies, each three weeks long, produced at LPAC between January and April of next year.”

Those are “Grease,” running from Jan. 14-30, “Sister Act,” slated for Feb. 18-March 6, and “Guys and Dolls,” wrapping up the season from April 1-17, all with non-union casts.

Ms. Gorman added MNM is prepared to reopen operations under COVID-19-constricted guidelines, much like those followed when the company produced its first-ever streaming production of “Closer Than Ever” last November. The show follows four characters exploring everyday struggles in today’s world, ranging from unrequited love to aging.

“Closer Than Ever,” MNM’s first foray into streaming productions, featured (from left) Johnbarry Green, Elijah Word, Aaron Bower, and Shelly Keelor. 

“That show is so appropriate for our times,” she said. “We rehearsed it as we would a normal show and filmed it as a live performance. All that was missing was a live audience. We launched it around Thanksgiving.”

The production, Ms. Gorman added, was an artistic triumph but had difficulty reaching an audience skilled enough to navigate the technical challenges of streaming it into their homes. Then there was the issue of keeping cast members safe.

“When we did ‘Closer Than Ever,’ we made sure that everybody took temperatures and regular COVID tests,” she said. “Back then, vaccinations weren’t available to anyone under the age of 65, so everyone was required to wear a mask when not on stage being filmed or singing. There was hand sanitizer everywhere, and everyone was always at least six feet apart. The only way they look closer than that is thanks to the way it was edited. Thankfully no one got sick.”

MNM casts all actors locally and employs up to three members of the Actors Equity Association for each show, but Ms. Gorman feared that situation might change.

“At this point, until Equity changes some of its highly restrictive rules, I don’t think I’ll be able to hire Equity performers,” she said. “The union is just too difficult to deal with. I recently learned that they require one person to be present full time at the theater, not doing any other job but just sitting there and getting paid to ensure I’m adhering to their COVID rules. That puts me in a very awkward spot. I want to hire my Equity people, but it just doesn’t make financial sense to me. It’s very prohibitive. They need to help producers, not harm them.”

Ms. Gorman added she’s still committed to having live musicians perform musical scores rather than using pre-recorded tracks, as some theaters do.

“I’m just going to have to be a lot more careful with my budget moving forward,” she said. “As I mentioned before, I usually budget about $200,000 per show, but that number may come down to around $150,000. So at this point, it’s all my own money going into this. And that ain’t easy.”

To learn more about MNM Theatre Company, log on to mnmtheatre.org or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mnmtheatrecompany.

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