BATH — When the coronavirus pandemic forced the Chocolate Church Arts Center in mid-March to close its doors, Executive Director William Lederer devised a way to keep its stream of entertainment from closing, too.
“Live from Home,” a series of live-streamed concerts featuring musicians performing from their homes, launched March 20 with a show by Lederer, himself a musician. The series was intended to serve a dual purpose: to generate revenue for artists whose gigs had dried up due to closed venues, and to garner funds for the arts center. Proceed from donations from audience members watching the shows on Facebook Live, were generally split evenly between the performer and the center. In some cases, however, such as Lederer’s, the musician donated all proceeds to the center.
The center hosted 17 shows in two months, raising about $5,000, of which about $3,500 went to the center, Lederer said. A typical show in the theater with strong attendance brings in between $1,000 to $2,000, he said.
The online shows encouraged donations, but most viewers did not contribute. “But that’s fine,” Lederer said. “It was as much about providing entertainment for people as it was about raising money for us.”
Understanding the economic strain many people are under, he said, “I have absolutely no negative feelings toward anyone who didn’t give; I just hope they enjoyed the show.”
The best-attended show was Gerald Brann’s; he’s the leader of the band Yellow Brick Road: A Tribute to Elton John, and a Bath resident who has played the Rocket Man since 2001. That drew more than 200 people, Lederer said.
The last performance was held May 22, and Lederer is putting the series on hold for now while he explores holding small in-person shows, with a cap of 50 people, per state rules during the pandemic.
That number will fit safely into the 1847 former church’s 300-seat theater, Lederer said: “We’ll try it and see how it goes.”
Plus it could help make up for the recent cancellation of Bath’s summertime waterfront concert series, he noted.
“The live stream concerts were great,” he said, but acknowledged, “I think we are getting to a point that people are getting a little burned out on the virtual experience. … So the idea right now is maybe to just give people a bit of a break.”
Both the smaller shows and online concerts could be held in the future, Lederer said. News about both can be found at chocolatechurcharts.org and facebook.com/chocolatechurcharts. The online shows can be watched on the center’s YouTube page.
Meanwhile in Brunswick, the Midcoast Youth Theater had just started rehearsals for “Doctor Dolittle” in late February, with an opening planned for May, but the pandemic shelved those plans.
“We shifted really quickly to providing a lot of online sessions” via the Zoom video chat program, said Eddie Hatrick of Brunswick, a theater board member who has been coordinating the online programming, and directed the troupe’s “Seussical the Musical” in January.
Hatrick, the theater’s choreographer, the music director and a few other members, have been volunteering their time, offering a few classes each week at no charge to the group, which also includes adults. Topics include how to do various accents for the stage (a how-to on producing radio dramas is in the works), as well as dance classes from various Broadway shows, and costuming, acting and script-writing classes.
“We’ve just been trying to put everything online, and throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks,” Hatrick said. “… It’s been a great outlet for people.”
Depending on the size of the show, the theater’s membership has ranged between 50-100. “Several dozen kids” have since been tuning into the online sessions, Hatrick said.