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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.

Rockford Theater Pivots From Live Performances To A Podcast

Photo provided by Richard Raether.

North American theater tickets sales have fallen 84% compared to the same period in 2019. That’s according to a September report by the international group TRG Arts. Despite the drop, a northern Illinois playhouse found a way to adapt during its COVID-19 financial drought.

Rockford’s Artists’ Ensemble Theater is launching a new podcast.


David Causey and Carolyn Cadigan recording Mysterious Journey.
Credit Artists' Ensemble Theater.

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Richard Raether is the company’s producing artistic director. He said the pandemic has devastated performing arts.

“Everybody has to find a way to make a living because as a performer, as a theater artist right now, there is no work,” Raether explained.

He shared that the troupe was in a good financial place when the pandemic hit but now those reserves have dwindled.

And like most organizations, he said the theater found themselves searching for answers.

“We continue to look at how and when can we do a live performance. Right now, doing a live performance, when you can only have 25 people in an indoor event, it just doesn't pay,” he explained. “It's kind of sad, even when you spread them out.”

Raether said the idea of doing a podcast came up. He explained that this was the easiest and cheapest way for the theater to share content with the public.

He mentioned that some theaters are doing video productions, which in some cases involve paying a professional.

“What the problem is, is that you have these theaters that do live performances. And now you're asking them to now create video content,” he said. “We're not video people. We don't know how to do that.”

Raether added that his theater didn’t understand how to do podcasts either, ?but they wanted to keep costs down. He shared that the organization used online training videos to figure out how to produce content. 


Once they knew a bit about audio production, the next hurdle was getting things recorded. Raether said the theater partners with Rockford University. He explained how they’ve set up a recording studio at the school. The theater saved money by producing the podcast in-house. 

Another way the theater is keeping costs down is by using stories that are in the public domain. These stories are not subject to any copyright infringements or fees.

“So that's what we're starting with, because obviously, this is free,” he explained. “We're putting it out there free and we're asking for donations. So therefore, we don't really have much money. The idea is to see if we can generate some income to keep the theater afloat.”

Raether said he believes the world of theater will change after the pandemic ends, and a lot of things theaters are doing to adapt, will continue. He is urging everyone to do their part so that we can get to that place soon.

“Please wear a mask. Please socially distance. It's the only way we're going get through this,” he expressed. “It's just, it's horrible. I would love to be able to get back to where we could get 50 people indoors.”

But until then, for Artists’ Ensemble, the podcast is the next best thing.

The Mysterious Journey Podcast includes stories that are about 10 to 20 minutes long and will run every other week starting Oct. 27. Podcasts can be found on Spotify, Apple, and Google podcasts and at the ensemble's website.

  • Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.


Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.