PPP helps keep Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre afloat

Dancers in face masks rehearse and audition Aug. 15 at Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre in Dickinson. (Courtesy Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre)
Dancers in face masks rehearse and audition Aug. 15 at Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre in Dickinson. (Courtesy Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre)

Dancers in face masks rehearse and audition Aug. 15 at Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre in Dickinson. (Courtesy Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre)

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Ann-Marie Brown checks the temperature of dance student Adison Elliott. (Courtesy Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre)
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Dance student Madeline Zundel poses in her dance attire and face mask. (Courtesy Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre)
Bay Area Houston Ballet and Theatre, an arts nonprofit in Dickinson, was wrapping up its 44th season when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Texas in early March. The pandemic forced the theater to end the season early, Executive Director Jill Reason said.

“To lose their last performance was devastating,” she said of her students. “It was just really hard to see them lose that.”

Shortly after, in late April, Reason said, she began worrying about paying salaries for herself and small staff.

Fortunately, the federal government offered help in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which allowed millions of small businesses, nonprofits and other organizations across the country to receive billions in forgivable loans through the federal government's Small Business Administration. The loans were primarily designed to keep workers employed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reason applied for the PPP, which she called a "godsend," and was approved for a $10,689 loan, which covered salaries for eight weeks, Reason said.

“It was very, very helpful that we had it,” she said.

While it was disappointing the dancers missed out on final performances, COVID-19 hit at an ideal time; had it reached Texas in October, when the theater employs a far larger staff during the peak of the season, Reason said, she is not sure she would have been able to keep them all.

Tim Jeffcoat, the district director of the SBA in Houston, said PPP has been successful in helping Houston-area businesses retain jobs.

“PPP has been awfully important in the whole nation, not just in my district, and it has made a significant difference,” he said. “It’s not enough for many businesses.”

According to SBA data, PPP saved a total of 49,704 jobs for over 6,000 businesses in League City, Pearland, Clear Lake and Friendswood.

The Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre will enter its 45th season right after Labor Day.

The theater normally contracts dancers to train and choreograph students throughout the season, but the nonprofit has limited funds, Reason said.

“I’m essentially working for nothing. We just don’t have the money,” Reason said. “We’re good, but it’s tight.”

On Aug. 15, the studio held tryouts for its upcoming season. Over 150 children showed up, had their temperatures taken, wore masks and auditioned, Reason said.

The studio has other precautions in place to keep students safe and minimize the risk of infection, including social distance markings on the dance floor, she said.

"We are not giving up. We are going to do our best to keep our dancers safe," she said.

Reason said students’ annual performance of “The Nutcracker” generates $80,000 for the nonprofit annually. With some performance venues closed for the rest of the year, the theater plans to perform the holiday play in its rehearsal studio to limited audiences, which is unlikely to generate much revenue, she said.

“But at least we’re doing something and not letting our kids down,” Reason said. “Even if we have to give it away, we’re going to provide the arts for the community. We have to.”
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.



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