The Arts in the time of Coronavirus – San Francisco Playhouse Launches Appeal

Beloved "Empathy Gym" Theater Team Devises "Be Our Hero" Campaign

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San Francisco, CA, USA – Susi Damilano and Bill English have produced plays in and operated San Francisco Playhouse without seasonal breaks for over 17 years. They’ve established their theater as “the Empathy Gym,” a stage for quality performances and an environment where, as English says, “we come to practice our powers of compassion.” But there’s been a change in the wake of necessary shut-downs in response to the national efforts to minimize spread of COVID-19.

Photo from February 2020 production of Rogelio Martinez’s “Born in East Berlin.”
Anne (Ash Malloy*) meets with GDR government officials Lotte (Lauren Hart*), Erich (Christopher Reber*), and Hans (Patrick Andrew Jones*) to discuss Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming concert in East Berlin.

“Today, the doors to our theater remain closed,” Damilano and English wrote to supporters in response to the mandate to close non-essential operations so as to join in an important fight to slow the spread of the corona virus. They were voluntarily suspending all performances of their upcoming show “Real Women Have Curves,” until further notice and approval from authorities. Even with doors closed, however, the two wrote they were “doing everything we can to keep our Empathy Gym up and running,” along with committing to paying their artists and staff no matter what the future holds…

“Even though the show cannot go on for now, our community will persist,” Damilano and English add. “And we will be back. In the meantime, we will do our best to find new ways to stay connected and uplifted.”

But no shows means no audiences. This not only puts a damper on things but also creates restriction of cash flow-cash that might be used for expenses, including payroll. “I just hope we can survive (the closure) and help our staff make it through,” Damilano says.

Cast of February 2020’s production of Nia Vardalos’ adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things: Letter Writer #1 (Mark Anderson Phillips), Letter Writer #2 (Kina Kantor), Sugar (Susi Damilano), and Letter Writer #3 (Jomar Tagatac)

San Francisco Playhouse is not the only arts organization that will be financially “hit” by temporary lack of revenue. Looking toward not just surviving, but eventually being back to thriving, Damilano and English came up with their “Be Our Hero” emailing campaign.

“This COVID-19 crisis is greatly affecting arts organizations and the thousands of people who rely on the Bay Area arts community for their well-being,” Damilano and English write in their campaign appeal. “If you share our commitment to the survival of performing arts in the Bay Area, we humbly ask you to make a contribution.” Survive they will at the San Francisco Playhouse, if, as Damilano and English point out, the arts-loving community can step up.

There are other challenging aspects of the closure besides monetary: Everyone at SF Playhouse is accustomed to working and being in-the-mix all year long. A break in the action? That’s highly unusual. There are some surprises planned, so stay tuned. However, the group will need to call upon supporters.

“The only way this can happen,” they write, “is (through) the generosity of our donors and community.” Their appeal features opportunities to make a one-time donation or a monthly pledge. They are also now offering opportunities to purchase a “Flexpass,” or a six-ticket pre-show ticket set that can be used for any six future shows chosen by the purchaser, in any combination. Gift certificates are also available and encouraged; these would instantly contribute funds to the organization, and they can be redeemed once San Francisco Playhouse is approved for re-opening.

It’s not a great feeling to shut down after 17 years of not a single moment we weren’t performing or rehearsing, Damilano says. “The greater good is what matters, I just want to help our staff make it through.”

“The fact that we are all in this together, Damilano says, “is such an inspiration.” As all citizens and businesses are being challenged, San Francisco Playhouse and its people work hard to focus on the common good while also maintaining forward momentum.

“Right now we have all hands on deck working through creative ways to keep things running from our homes,” Damilano says. “We are planning our 20/21 season announcement party regardless of whether it is in person, or an online video celebration.”

As we all wait out this unexpected assault on the safety of our collective health and well-being, we hope fans will be excited about the opportunity to contribute to San Francisco Playhouse– and also to other arts organizations as well. After all, as Damilano and English both point out,“There are brighter days ahead, and we will need the arts to be there when we come out the other side of this crisis.”

As Bill English  shares in recent poetry sent to San Francisco Playhouse supporters:

We are alone,
Yet we are together
Our countries are closing borders
Yet we are one in humanity
We are afraid
Yet we will
We feel helpless
Yet if we listen closely
To the silence
We can hear the heartbeat of the world
Our empathy gym must close for now

Yet we will return
And let our time together practicing compassion
inspire us to remember
That when we give love and understanding
We will thrive.**

Will you be a “Hero”? We at Splash Magazines Worldwide hope that our readers, while carefully following sanctioned restrictions via social distancing and other health protocols in place at this time, will remain loyal financial supporters of the Arts, especially San Francisco Playhouse, whether doors are open or not…

Support us during this crisis

*Courtesy of San Francisco Playhouse web site at:

Text ©2020 Ariel J. Smythe, “East of Berlin” and “Tiny Beautiful Things” production photos courtesy of Jessica Palopoli, used with permission of San Francisco Playhouse.


  • Ariel J Smythe

    Ariel J. Smythe is a novelist and reporter covering the intersection of Faith, culture, science, world affairs, and the arts. Reach her at www.Linkedin(dot)com/in/arieljsmythe.

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About Ariel J Smythe 6 Articles
Ariel J. Smythe is a novelist and reporter covering the intersection of Faith, culture, science, world affairs, and the arts. Reach her at www.Linkedin(dot)com/in/arieljsmythe.

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