Hammer Theatre Plans an Exciting Season Ahead

by | Jan 3, 2022 | Community Engagement

Hammer Theatre will be hosting live in-person and livestreamed performances in 2022.
Photo: Robert C. Bain.
After nearly two years of managing the Hammer Theatre from his home office, Chris Burrill is thrilled to kick off the 2022 season from the theater’s home on Third Street, just steps from San José State University’s campus in downtown San José. 

As Hammer’s executive managing director, Burrill and his staff navigated the pandemic by shifting much of their programming to livestreamed online and hybrid events. This past fall, he was delighted to usher patrons into the theater for the first in-person shows since 2020. 

Burrill answered a few questions about the transition back to in-person programming, COVID-19 safety protocols and upcoming performances at the Hammer.

How does it feel to be back in the theater?

Chris Burrill (CB): We are all so relieved and happy to be here. Trying to run a theater from home felt overly complicated and impersonal. Now that we are back in our office, and we have all these safety protocols in place, we are so happy and feel very safe. 

Thank goodness we can get back to doing what we’re used to doing, though it’s a slow process to rebuild the business level that we had before. We anticipated a slow rebuild, though, so we feel ready.

All theatergoers are required to wear masks at this time. What other steps are currently in place to help patrons feel safe?

CB: We have to maintain the city of San José’s new ordinance, which is that everybody must have their vaccination status checked at the door — and have their vaccine card to prove it — to be admitted. Sometimes patrons express annoyance, but then they tell us that they are glad we’re doing this because now they feel incredibly safe coming to our theater.

Many performance artists, theater professionals and those who work in performance venues have lost work during the pandemic. How was this reflected at the Hammer?

CB: Before the pandemic, we had 60 people who were ancillary workers for the theater: ushers, bartenders, client services, backstage professionals. Now that we are back with in-person performances, we’ve hired about 20 of those positions [back], most of them are new people. We can’t bring back all 60 positions yet because we’re slowly rebuilding, so right now we’re bringing them back as fast as we can to meet our needs.

When the pandemic hit, the Hammer invested in streaming technology and film production equipment to assist productions that were recording or livestreaming performances. Will you still offer those services in addition to in-person performances?

CB: We are at an interesting point where a lot of the theater companies or clients who used to rent out our space are finally at a place where they can come back and perform in person. Some of them decide to pay extra, so they can have the streaming capability, because in order to offer the livestream service, we have to hire a camera crew in addition to the theater technical crew. So depending on the company, most of our clients have decided that they want to offer both the in-person performance and a livestreamed show.

Camille A. Brown and Dancers in “ink,” a work that examines the culture of Black life that is often appropriated, rewritten or silenced.
Photo: Christopher Duggan.

What upcoming performances are you excited to bring to San José?

CB: Starting on Jan. 30, we are kicking off our Black Cab Jazz series upstairs in the Hammer. Each of the four performances will feature a master class taught by the visiting artists for SJSU jazz students heralded by Aaron Lington, saxophonist and professor of music and dance.

During the first week of February, we are hosting Camille A. Brown and Dancers, a company from New York that is working with SJSU dance students to put together an original dance piece that will be performed at the Hammer. Brown is well known as a choreographer; earlier this fall she choreographed for “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first Metropolitan Opera composed by a Black musician (Terence Blanchard). Later in 2022, she will be choreographing a production of “Soul Train” for American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. We’re really honored to have her here.

What main message would you like to share about the Hammer Theatre in 2022?

CB: Every year, the San José Downtown Association, which is a consortium of businesses and a [nonprofit] service organization, has their annual meeting at the Hammer. We hosted them last month, and I think everyone should know that the business community and the people who live downtown all collectively said in different ways how thrilled they are that SJSU has students back on campus. Downtown felt empty until the students, faculty and staff returned and started showing their happy faces. This proves how important the university really is to this community.

Reserve tickets at the Hammer Theatre website for upcoming performances, both in-person and online.



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