Businesses everywhere are shuttering as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak economic havoc. The Upright Citizens Brigade is among the organizations doing mass layoffs, telling dozens of staff members by email March 17th that they no longer had jobs.
The decision has sparked outrage, especially as the UCB was founded on principals of solidarity. During the first day of improv, students participate in a tradition where they touch each other’s back and say, “I’ve got your back.”
The letter reads, in part: “Sadly, we regret to inform you that we have decided to conduct mass layoffs. This decision was not any easy one and the Company reviewed all options…” Then, there is a final expression of “heartfelt regret that we had to go down this path.”
Several theater managers, UCB grads and fans expressed outrage in the Los Angeles Times and on Twitter. Adam Conover, best known as host of TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything, wrote: “Times are tough, but it’s hard for me to see this as anything other than a profoundly callous way to treat the most devoted members of our community. Those in charge could have used their resources to cushion the blow and offer support to those who have given so many years of their lives to UCB. They still can.”
UCB’s New York artistic director, Michael Hartney, said: “I wish I could say the same for a lot of my coworkers who were notified through this email, which wasn’t particularly well written or kindly written. I also think the UCB 4 are in a precarious position right now and are doing their best to get us in a place where we’ll be able to survive this. If they could have offered a severance and have the company survive, they would have.”
Monday night, founders Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh sent out a follow-up email, expressing regret, but saying it was necessary.
They wrote, in part, via Vulture: “Let us first start by saying we are sorry for the delay in hearing from us directly. We have been trying to reach out personally to employees over the last 48 hours before sending anything publicly. Like you, we are reeling from the effects of COVID-19 and what it is doing to the world. Our first concern was the safety and health of our performers and employees, which is why we tried to act fast in closing our theaters and training centers.”
The letter concluded: “Thank you for your incredible work. We hope this is a temporary pause while we fight to see another day. And most importantly, we hope you and everyone you love is healthy and safe.”