On April 20, Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company will host its annual Gala as a Virtual Progressive Party instead. Free and open to the public, the first-time digital event will feature special performances, a virtual auction, as well as previews of the theatre’s upcoming 41st season. The event kicks off at 7:30PM ET with a virtual cocktail hour before the 8PM main event. RSVP here.
When shutdowns began dimming lights at theatres across the country in March, artistic director Maria Manuela Goyanes never considered postponing or canceling the event and immediately pivoted from an in-person event to an online one with the help of event producers RJ Whyte. “We knew that this was an opportunity to connect with our community and provide them with some joy and meaning—to bust through the isolation and remind them why Woolly Mammoth is essential," Goyanes tells Playbill. The Progressive Party marks a vital fundraising effort to ensure the health of the long-running company, short and long term.
But Goyanes’ decision, made in collaboration with managing director Emika Abe and the Woolly team, was not just a financial one. The company has re-envisioned this as an opportunity to broaden their typical reach. “Woolly Mammoth is known well beyond Washington, D.C., as an innovative home to new plays,” Abe says. “Because we have a national reputation, we’re thrilled to have an event that allows us to connect with family, friends, and fans from anywhere in the world. We’re excited to see where folks tune in from!
“Our in-person event would typically have less than 250 people in attendance, but with a free and open live streamed party, we could potentially have thousands of people watching—and contributing,” she continues.
Though the company, like hundreds of others, navigates uncharted waters in this moment, the staff is “knee deep in analyzing countless potential future scenarios, some decidedly more optimistic than others,” says Abe. “Here’s what we know for certain moving forward: Finding new and unexpected ways to engage with our artists and audiences is already part of the mission of our theatre, and we know that innovating on digital platforms will certainly play a large role in our long-term strategy to come through this pandemic an even more nimble, adaptable, and resilient organization.”
Known for its pioneering artistry, Woolly Mammoth boasts a legacy of innovation, which has only continued under Goyanes tenure (which began September 2018). In this profound moment of change for all of us, it begs the question: Do Goyanes and Abe aim for a return to “business as usual”?
“Business as usual for us often brings about a fair amount of experimentation and change,” says Goyanes. “Is this moment an opportunity to re-evaluate our subscription model? Yes. Do we need to figure out how to stay flexible in case another wave of the outbreak hits this fall or spring? Yes. Are there aspects of teleworking that are helping us communicate more effectively as a team? Yes."
As the team continues to adapt, Woolly's foundation will not change. “Business as usual for us also means being able to gather safely as a community. That’s what we want to return to,” Goyanes continues. “We believe that without the communal experience of the performing arts, our society lacks an important space to reflect on and grapple with the joys, pain, and tremendous complexity of what it means to be human in our world. So, do we want to return to the ‘business as usual’ of gathering? We are shouting a resounding ‘YES!’ from the rooftops!”
With any luck, the April 20 Progressive Party will help them do just that.
For more information about the Virtual Progressive Party or to donate to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, visit WoollyMammoth.net.