Celebrating Our Spirit: Entertainers, venues learn to adjust

David Trinko, The Lima News, Ohio
·4 min read

Feb. 27—LIMA — When new Lima Symphony Orchestra musical director Andrew Crust finishes conducting a show, he doesn't hear applause from the crowd.

If he's lucky, he might find some useful comments online though. That's the life of a symphony conductor who earned the full-time job with the LSO in the midst of a pandemic. Instead of performing before crowds at Veterans Memorial Civic Center, they're recording pieces and presenting them on screen at drive-in theaters or online in people's living rooms.

"I think that one downside is we can't connect to the crowd directly," Crust said via Zoom from his Vancouver home. "We can't have a lobby reception and hear someone say, 'That was great,' or, 'That didn't really work, or, 'We really loved that soloist.'"

Entertainment venues and performers certainly had to learn what worked as they adjusted in the past year.

Kelli Stephens, the lead singer with Shifferly Road Band, prides herself on getting the crowd on its feet and dancing. She enjoys walking through the crowd while performing covers of modern country, blues, classic rock and pop tunes. Instead, she has a spot on the floor where she's supposed to stay 6 feet away from her bandmates.

"It's really changed our set list," Stephens said. "It's more about sing-songy songs, to try to get the audience to sing with us instead of dancing."

For Crust, the pandemic led to performing with a smaller orchestra sometimes. By necessity, it pushed him to introduce newer pieces to the public.

"I'm going to give you the staples, but I'm also going to show you something that you don't yet know that I know you're going to love," Crust said. "... We are filming a piece called 'The Four Seasons' by Max Richter, which is from the late late 20th century, but it uses Vivaldi's music, and it just kind of re-illustrates it. It just changes it and moves some things around. Sometimes it's exactly the same, sometimes it's very, very different. So you open the door. People say, 'Oh, I know that tune. I can hear that. That is Vivaldi's Spring, even though he's sort of mutating it and moving it around."

Coronavirus shut down most shows at the Civic Center. It gave Abe Ambroza, its chief executive officer, a chance to better appreciate the building itself and what it brings to the community.

"Before we were going day to day, event to event," he said. "It really made us truly focus and appreciate how important this building is to this community. There's been an outpouring of support to keep the lights on, from the messages we've received that people can't wait till they have concerts again, to the fundraisers to help us, to hearing that people miss coming in the doors."

Ambroza said he's become more in tune with different funding opportunities for the Civic Center, making sure they're taking advantage of all the programs available for it. He's excited about the coming months, as smaller events are now permissible. Many weekends are booked for wedding receptions, and he's seeing midweek events popping back on the calendar for larger employers who need the meeting space. When larger events can happen, he's eager to bring them back, as long as the Civic Center can offer entertainment safely.

The Rex Center in Ottawa, an outdoor amphitheater, had its first full season right as the pandemic hit. That led to smaller events, said Phyllis Macke, a member of the Cultural Committee of Ottawa, which sets programming for the new venue.

The virus helped set the tone for the venue, as people socially distanced and brought lawn chairs to enjoy monthly concerts and bringing food trucks along Main Street in the Putnam County village. It kept them from advertising events much, and events didn't spread across the street into the municipal parking lot in order to keep events safe, she said.

"We had to change things from the very beginning," Macke said. "We started out doing things from a safe distance and kept that in mind. We encouraged people to come as a family with a cooler or as a group. It seemed to work well."

Shifferly Road Band continued to perform throughout the pandemic, said its manager, Allison Knepper, performing nearly every Friday and Saturday night. The virus changed its venues from festivals to outdoor patio areas near bars, she said. The earlier curfew actually backfired, she said, as older fans showed up at the same time as younger fans for earlier shows, instead of each having its own natural time to enjoy the show.

"Especially now, crowds are just fed up with it," she said. "You can see the frustration building in people. People are starting to go out now, and now people are piling out. The businesses are still at half capacity, so with a lower capacity they can't pay bands as much. ... I think we've learned how to be diverse and how to roll with the punches."