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Exploring New Ways to Engage the Community
Venues and Staff Tapped in Creative Ways During the Pandemic
by Mark Wallace
In the midst of dealing with the cancellations of Broadway shows and other events due to the pandemic, Blumenthal Performing Arts has worked hard to keep hope alive. Finding alternative spaces for events through strategic partnerships is just one part of it. Blumenthal and its employees have also refocused within, finding creative ways to tap its own venues and staff during these difficult times.
Blumenthal Front of House Manager Tommy Cantrell had been conducting tours of the theaters based on availability, but now that the theaters are empty, it was decided to make them more of a regular thing to bring in a little revenue during the downtime. Tour groups have been kept small because of COVID-19 restrictions. Guests were appreciative of the tours.
Tommy Cantrell
Tommy Cantrell
“I did have a few say that they will never complain about the ticket price again after they heard what all goes into the producing a Broadway tour,” said Cantrell. One guest said: “Thank you for providing this opportunity. We loved having a tour guide that has been with the Blumenthal for 20 years.”
Another said: “Great way to bring show goers and newbies back to the theaters. Tommy went above and beyond.”
For a taste of the backstage tours, IT Director Robert Schoneman walks us through the Booth Playhouse decked out for the holidays.
When the backstage tours cranked up in late fall, it was the perfect time to include ghost tours in the theaters as well. Several staff members took turns conducting those tours, telling of eerie encounters in the Blumenthal buildings.
Staff also played a big part in an outdoor, socially distanced touring show that came to Charlotte called Art Heist Experience. The interactive event required participants to move in loose groups from site to site uptown to get different clues from an actual unsolved art heist.
Above are some of the different characters and locations for Art Heist Experience.
Blumenthal Season Marketing Manager Kitty Janvrin took on the role of production coordinator. “I worked with the directors and the production company to essentially build the Charlotte production using the script and past productions as a base,” she said. She also coordinated local casting and rehearsals, scouted locations for the clue stations, worked on costuming and props for the characters, worked with tech and front of house on health and safety protocols and enforcement, and served as the “on-the-ground director” and stage manager once the show started.
Booth Playhouse is decorated for the holidays for groups to rent out and view their favorite holiday movies.
During the holiday season, Booth Playhouse was converted into a private movie theater for groups to rent and view their favorite holiday movies. The tech department brought in lighting and sofas and Tommy Cantrell decorated Christmas trees and helped guide the overall decorating of the theater.
Blumenthal’s education department kept things alive in the organization with programs that engaged students and teachers in the performing arts.
Andie Maloney
“Our goal is to create programs that meet the needs of our community,” said Blumenthal Vice President of Education Andie Maloney. “This year in particular has created rapidly changing needs, and we have stayed nimble to respond.”
For instance, when the beloved Blumey Awards ceremony in May had to be canceled because of COVID-19, the education department quickly shifted gears and worked with PBS Charlotte to create a special televised program that honored the hard work and dedication of former and current high school musical theater students and teachers. It was presented in partnership with Wells Fargo and PBS Charlotte.
Since restrictions are still in place, most schools are not able to produce shows. This year’s Blumey Awards program has been restructured so that individual school musical productions are not required. Instead, students from participating schools will use an audition model that can take place in-person or virtually. This year’s ceremony will be a celebration, featuring students from each participating school in musical numbers, either with a live or virtual audience.
Teen Actor's Lab takes place at Spirit Square.
This past fall, Blumenthal’s education department started a weekly Teen Actor’s Lab at Spirit Square for middle and high school students of all skill levels. The program ran three days a week from September through November, with each day consisting of supervised study hall to complete schoolwork, and then hands-on theater workshops.
“The Teen Lab filled a gap in theater training and safe in-person peer interactions for teens while school was fully remote,” said Maloney.
Diving even deeper into musical theater training, Broadway Bootcamps were set up to give eighth through 12th graders intense and in-person one-day masterclasses in acting, voice and dance from working Broadway actors and industry pros. One was held in October and one in December.
Students participate in Blumenthal's Broadway Bootcamp.
Maloney says more of the “bootcamps” are to come, so stay tuned.
For younger students, Blumenthal usually conducts the Junior Theater Celebration at Knight Theater with in-person workshops, giving elementary and middle school students a chance to perform on a real stage. This year’s Junior Theater Celebration will move to a digital platform the last week in March.
To support educators with resources and development opportunities, the education department initiated an Arts Educator Network. The four-hour workshop covered rehearsing and presenting a musical online.
“The timing of the program launch happened to come when educators most needed to share resources and connect while adapting to the pandemic,” Maloney said. “We hope the launch of this program has helped them feel valued and appreciated while they work so hard to keep the arts thriving and accessible for their students.”
Teachers participate virtually in the Art Educator Network.
Also, at the request of the Rock Hill district arts coordinator, Blumenthal will be developing a full-day workshop to support the professional growth of creative industry teachers and programs in the Rock Hill School District.
Maloney said the Arts Educator Network program is here to stay. “We look forward to a day when we can gather in person to network and celebrate, including attending performances together.”
Late last year, Blumenthal also hosted some industry panels. One titled “Young, Gifted and Black: Bringing the Young Black Artist Center Stage” was streamed live from the McGlohon Theater stage.
“The Young, Gifted and Black panel discussion was a step in the journey to increase diversity in theater; uplifting talent that is underrepresented to ensure our youth hear and see role-models that look like them, or don’t look like them for that matter,” Maloney said.
“Thank you for all you do, both for arts education here in Charlotte, and especially thank you for last night,” said Casey Starkey at Central Academy of Technology and Arts after viewing the program. “It was honestly the most encouraging event and something I can’t even begin to describe how it impacted my heart and the hearts of my kids!”
The other panel was “Home for the Holidays” featuring three Charlotte natives who are in the Broadway industry – actor and teacher Tyler McKenzie, producer Thomas Laub, and stage manager Ryan Gardner. They discussed their paths in the industry, what it was like working in professional theater during the holidays, and life while theaters are dark. Maloney wants to do more of these type panels this year.
Open Mic continued on, as well, but outside instead of inside the McGlohon Theater. In October and November, a stage was set up on the landing at the back entrance of Spirit Square, and socially distanced mask-wearing watchers gathered on the square at Spirit Square.
“Artists have not stopped during the pandemic and the need for art – to entertain, to express, to commune – is as essential as ever,” Maloney said. “I am excited for the renaissance on the horizon that will feature an explosion of beautiful and powerful works of art uniting, celebrating and challenging people from all backgrounds to experience, explore and share together.” ◼
On the next page, see videos of some of what Blumenthal has had to offer during the pandemic, and messages of hope.