As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter our everyday lives, Delaware entertainment venues continue to find ways to give a stage to the arts—even if it’s virtual.
Since the pandemic began in mid-March, venues have found new and creative ways to maintain business as the industry is hit hard with local and federal restrictions on public gatherings.
Live stages like The Queen in Wilmington renovated their front bar and patio area in July, renaming it the Knight’s Bar while the rest of the space can be used by clients, still meeting the precautionary requirements. Jam 24/7 Sound in Newark knew that their technological advances in equipment would allow them to help other hurting venues to broadcast events online. Even multidisciplinary art venue The Freeman Stage suffered despite being outdoors as the fear of the pandemic and CDC guidelines cut their capacities from 2,700 to 388.
Tom Watson, owner of Jam 24/7 Sound says the restrictions forced locations “to adapt and be proactive or we would be out of business totally.”
For Watson, live streaming was the easiest way to keep business going. Jam’s first virtual stream was with artist Amillion the Poet this past April. Since then, Jam has used their audio and visual equipment and skills to go on location and stream events from high school proms to cooking shows at The Delaware Contemporary art museum to dinner shows at The Boulevard in Dover.
Watson says collaborating with other businesses like these is “providing the ability for them to turn themselves into a virtual venue.”
However, recent spikes in coronavirus cases and alterations to local public gathering rules set by Gov, John Carney in November and December further the impact on the industry as The Queen will face shutting down its bar for the unforeseeable future shortly after having received a grant to winterize the patio portion of the venue.
“There are all kinds of government funds and organizations helping out live music venues right now because, in my opinion, they are the hardest hit industry in the world,” says Sam Blumin, The Queen’s general manager.
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Despite the setbacks, Blumin shares that the venue will move on from taking events to outdoor venues and instead will be looking forward to providing live streaming of the events online at the beginning of 2021.
However, another issue the live entertainment industry is facing comes from the expectations of consumers. Many have become accustomed to watching free content online of concerts or performances. But now, many virtual events are coming at a cost.
“The public is so used to getting everything for free online and it is that that is going to hurt the entertainment industry more than anything,” says Watson.
The experience varies wildly with some artists’ charging for private online streams while others stream their event for free to simply engage with fans. The expectations of audience members will vary while the industry makes adjustments to its way of conducting business virtually.
However, Patti Grimes, Executive Director of The Freeman Stage says many artists are appreciative for the chance to perform at all.
“The artists that came were just thrilled – many of them had said to us that, ‘We have not performed,’ or ‘We have not performed together since March,’ and that was their only gig for the entire year,” she says.
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Along with supporting local venues through their adapted events, one organization is raising awareness and funding for the industry, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA).
“People can donate to that organization [Save Our Stages]. Venues, entertainment spaces, [especially] indoor ones, are hurting the most because certain people don’t see live music as essential, even though for many people, they might think it is,” Blumin says.
The Freeman Stage is also doing their best to support the arts by providing a program called Arts in Education during the off-season. The program reaches out to schools in the Delmarva peninsula to ensure opportunities of diverse artistic experiences for students.
“The arts can only survive and be sustainable with the support of the public,” Grimes says.