On Wednesday, November 26, al Riggs got a call from their manager at the Carolina Theatre—the business would close until mid-summer. An official email announcement from the theater didn’t come for another 48 hours.
The Carolina Theatre announced on social media it was laying off the majority of its staff that Wednesday, and said the theater would close its doors entirely for the first half of 2021. Prior to this, the theatre had opened at limited capacity and was supplementing its revenue with to-go concessions and online film screenings.
The formal email Riggs later received mirrored the words the company posted previously on Facebook and its blog, even saying the announcement was made “today,” despite the two statements being published days apart.
“We truly appreciate all your hard work and willingness to come back as we tried different ways to bring in revenue,” the email read. “Unfortunately, the Carolina Theatre of Durham will close to the public from January 1 through June 30, 2021, the remainder of the fiscal year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the Board of Trustees of Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc. announced today.”
Riggs had known for days; their former manager called after the decision was made. Most people had known for days by the time the email reached the inboxes of now-former employees: Riggs shared the news on Twitter, prompting local outlets to pick up the story and the Carolina Theatre to make public statements on its social media accounts. Despite being asked to remove the tweet by the theater via another former manager, Riggs left it up.
I and everyone else at the carolina theatre have just been fired unceremoniously due to the incoming ceo wanting to cut costs. The theatre is also closing until June.
I’m speechless. 3 1/2 years. I had to find out from my (excellent and now former) manager.
— 𝖆𝖑 𝖗𝖎𝖌𝖌𝖘 𝖇𝖗𝖆𝖓𝖉 𝖊𝖌𝖌 𝖓𝖔𝖌 (@alRiggsMusicOk) November 25, 2020
“This would be shitty coming from a Fortune 500 corporation, or a conglomerate,” Riggs told the INDY. “It would be bad coming from them, or like a McDonald’s. This is the Carolina Theatre. This is a kind of behavior and employee-employer relationship that has not existed in the three and a half years that I’ve worked there.”
Former employees are not guaranteed their jobs come July. They were told that if they wanted to be rehired, they would have to apply again through the theater’s website, Riggs said.
The theater’s decision surprised Triangle residents. John Darnielle, the man behind the popular band The Mountain Goats, quoted Riggs’s tweet to express his shock.
“The Carolina is literally my favorite place in the world,” Darnielle wrote on Twitter. “What Disneyland is to some people, that’s what the Carolina is to me. This is horrible, horrible news.”
The news comes on the back of leadership changes at the nonprofit: On July 1, Rebecca Newton retired from her position as president of Carolina Theatre and was replaced by Bethann James in the interim. Despite no official announcement, a new president has been selected for the organization, according to former employees. Prior to the Wednesday announcement, the theater announced on November 6 that it could release virtual versions of two programs, thanks to donations.
The theater did not return a request for comment.
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