The brigade of upright citizens laid off most of its 79 Los Angeles employees after COVID-19 closures hit famed drama and comedy training school. According to data released this week by the Small Business Administration, UCB received a loan from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program in early April in the amount of between $ 350,000 and $ 1 million for its Los Angeles location – but they say they don’t plan to use this funding to hire their staff.
While declared intention The government’s paycheck protection program is “a loan designed to directly incent small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll,” businesses are not required to do so. Many did not use the funds for payroll for a variety of reasons, including the inability to fully reopen their business and the long delay between applying for and receiving these loans. Companies that take out the loans and do not use at least 60% of the payroll funds must repay the money to the federal government, albeit at a low interest rate.
This is what UCB plans to do, according to a letter sent to members of the UCB community by the founders of the theater. In the letter, they say they plan to use the P3 funds as a low-interest loan to cover the costs of the small number of staff and teachers they still employ, as well as to cover their costs. rent during the current pandemic.
They note that they have chosen not to rehire staff because of the additional unemployment benefits (an additional $ 600 per week) provided until the end of July by the federal government. They said the amount was more than the majority of UCB staff earned when working in the theater / training school.
The news of the loans and the decision not to bring the staff back has not been well received by some former UCB staff, fans and performers.
UCB emailed performers to clarify the PPP loan, but did not include the staff they actually assigned. they don’t care about the information, just the optics
– paris adkins (@parisadkins) July 8, 2020
PPP loans have been explicitly designed so that companies do not lay off their workforce. UCB continues to disappoint.
– Jackie Rae (@jackieisawuesom) July 10, 2020
The backlash is the latest in a string of issues for UCB, owned by cast / comedians Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. Beyond the recent closure of their New York theater, they made cuts in their LA theaters and moved their annual improv marathon to LA while downsizing. Last month, following complaints of systemic racism and inequality within the organization, they announced its intention to hand over management to a diverse board of directors (and pursue nonprofit status).
A GoFundMe launched in March raised just over $ 60,000 to help UCB LA staff. The UCB Theater and School in New York, which employed 81 people before UCB laid off the majority of its staff on both coasts, took out another loan of the same size worth between 350,000 and $ 1 million. Then they decided to close permanently.
current UCB staff, according to activist journalist Seth Simons, includes Academic Director Johnny Meeks, a school principal in Los Angeles and a CFO in New York. They also continue to employ part-time instructors to give lessons, which have long been a much larger source of income for UCB than its live shows.
Other LA training programs and comedy clubs have taken bailouts in the same lineup, including the Groundlings, the Comedy Store, and the Laugh Factory. The Burbank Flappers Comedy Club took out a smaller PPP loan from the government between $ 150,000 and $ 350,000.
It remains to be seen what financial position any of these theaters will find themselves in once the theaters are allowed to reopen. In recent interviews with LAist, UCB teachers have expressed concerns about the future of theater and said the current pandemic could cause the improv scene to shrink. However, UCB owns one of its LA theaters and pays considerably less rent for its other LA theater than it does for the New York theaters, according to UCB co-founders Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter.