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How to manage Covid cancelations

The set awaits, performers are ready, and the box office schedule ensures everyone is ready to greet attendees. Then you get the news -- your lead has Covid.

As theatres continue towards recovery from the pandemic and contend with lower attendance, preventing cancelation is critical. When Covid cancelations strike, it causes disappointment with patrons, adds strain to already taxed budgets, and it's a gut punch to the cast. Planning for potential cancelation helps mitigate the challenges wrought by the virus.

Helping patrons with disappointment

With two years of Covid behind us, virtually all of us have been faced with the disappointment of a canceled event. When cancelation is necessary, notify patrons as soon as possible.

Use the tools of your ticketing software to send out a personalized email to attendees. Have a clear subject line: "{{Event Name}} is canceled". Too many people skim emails, and this is not the time to be creative with your alert.

Clearly convey the reason for the cancelation and the necessity of the decision. Of course, the cast and crew are devastated, so let your emotions show! Being human can elicit empathy from patrons and -- dare we say it -- prompt generosity.

Next up, state the dates of rescheduled performances, how refunds or exchanges are processed, and how they can contact the box office. This prevents a slew of phone calls and the telephone tag that almost certainly follows.

In the end, some patrons may be downright frustrated especially if they have already traveled to see the show. Make sure your staff recognizes the importance of listening, apologizing, and empathizing with patrons. To soothe still-ruffled feathers, give staff the freedom to make small considerations such as a gift card, additional tickets to the rescheduled show, or branded merchandise. Little gifts can turn an angry patron into a valued customer for life.

Handling exchanges and refunds

Cancelations have budget implications, and it's vital to try to retain performance revenues. Research the options available in your ticketing platform. For example, rather than return much-needed revenue back to patrons who cannot make rescheduled dates, we recommend using the "refund to a gift card" option if your box office software offers it. Alternatively, invite patrons to donate their tickets (and revenue) back to inventory.

To save on box office staffing, see if customers can perform their own exchanges or refund requests. This is a huge time-saver for your organization, and patrons prefer the convenience of DIY exchanges.

If the show will not be rescheduled, you may be faced with the painful decision to refund patrons.

When circumstances require a full refund, use the bulk refund option in your ticketing platform. (ThunderTix offers this in a one-click step to automatically email patrons with the refund information.)

Protecting the cast

You've invested real dollars into set design, advertising, and salaries, and your insurance against illness rests with required vaccinations and boosters (as it is in LA, Washington DC, at Yale ,etc). This is non-negotiable.

Younger actors often present as asymptomatic, so frequent testing can prevent infection among all cast members. Ratchet up testing frequency as opening night approaches.

Cast members have lived with Covid long enough to recognize the importance of protecting themselves. Even so, we all can get lax, and with a show on the line, gentle reminders about the use of masks and avoiding crowds might be the best medicine.

The show will go on

Interruptions happen, and planning goes a long way to reducing the pain of cancelation. The three primary goals are to protect your revenues, empathize and accommodate patrons, so they return again and again, and keep your cast safe. Manage these as best you can, then turn your attention to your next performance.


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