How Vilar Performing Arts Center, Nordest Studio, Spartan Crew, Blue Ridge AVL, & Total Lighting Support are Staying Strong & Lending a Hand
It is hard to believe that what started as an idea for a single article has turned into such a successful series. We’re already on edition number seven. Thank you for sending your stories, sharing our posts, and joining us on interview calls to talk about what you’re doing. We appreciate the support we have received from this initiative. The positivity you’ve produced makes the world easier to live in during these difficult times.
For those of you who have not followed our series, we’re working with people across the event and entertainment industry. From companies big and small, we’re publishing stories of how they’re giving back to their communities and what they’re doing to just make it through. Here’s another installment of our curated ‘give-back’ series. It highlights five more companies and their efforts in this tough chapter.
Vilar Performing Arts Center: Ghost Light Sessions for a Virtual Crowd
Located in the heart of Colorado’s Beaver Creek Resort, the Vilar Performing Arts Center (VPAC) is a 530-seat theatre operated by the Vail Valley Foundation (VVF), which presents a variety of year-round performances including concerts, jazz, comedy, dance, film, Broadway musicals, theatre, family shows, and more. When Eagle County shut down in March due to COVID-19, the VPAC was only a few short weeks from the end of their regular season. The immediate focus of the production department was how the impact on the crew scheduled for those weeks could be lessened. Production Manager Kristen Ruthemeyer Hammer, backed by VPAC full time staffers, implored VVF for funding for those affected crew. As a non-profit organization facing massive losses to revenue, cancelled shows, and an uncertain future, VPAC and the VVF paid 86% of the expected lost revenue to those crew members who were scheduled to finish out the season.
Since that date, the VPAC has been focused on how a safe return to live events can be possible. The Ghost Light Sessions, a series focused on presenting local and regional bands to a stay-at-home audience via live stream, got its first performance on May 7 with only 10 people in the venue, including the band. The empty theatre seats provided a perfect backdrop for our lighting designers, and Head Audio Engineer Dan Long put together a high quality live mix for the home audience. As of the time this article was written, the theater has now presented 8 Ghost Light Sessions performances, and has weekly Thursday shows booked through August.
Thanks to the success of their county’s ongoing re-opening process, the VPAC welcomed their first live audience of 34 people, primarily first responders and medical professionals, on June 11. This was the inspiration for the current “Tix for Medics” program, which allows folks to donate to a fund which is managed in conjunction with Vail Health to provide free tickets to the local healthcare workforce. VPAC hopes that success in the Ghost Light Sessions will help get their crew back to work safely and soon. For more information about the Ghost Light Sessions, including where to watch, how to get tickets, or how to donate to Tix for Medics, please visit vilarpac.org.
Nordest Studio: Connecting People to Succeed Together
Nordest Studio is a full-service creative and production agency based in Toronto, Ontario who, in addition to a wide array of services, provides consulting with art organizations and event producers on how to move what they’re doing to an online, digital space. Walking them through the steps, they’re able to introduce them to the software and programs they use and provide them with best practices.
Like so many people in this industry, the Nordest team lost everything on the books except for a few marketing retainer clients at the beginning of stay-at-home orders. So, they worked and hustled to connect various businesses in their area to resources they needed. They helped local businesses procure masks. Helped nail salons find vendors to build plexiglass dividers. They acted as a conduit to help so many people navigate through new waters to get their businesses opened safely. They also connected administrators at the school board with new technology that allows controlled social distancing. Now they can think about feasibly getting back to school.
Recently, the team at Nordest has also been going above and beyond, providing guidance at no cost to help the struggling industry adjust to a new landscape. They’ve been offering live streaming for 5 years, which was once an underrated add-on service where people couldn’t realize the benefit, but has now become an essential service. Lina, Co-Founder and Director of Nordest, started seeing her customers turning to a video conferencing solution (you know which one) at the onset of COVID and when events started to cancel. Despite its practicality, she knows very well that there are limitations to that technology when it comes to hosting events and captivating audiences.
To better serve the industry, Nordest ended up pivoting to create an online platform with partners in the streaming and content distribution business. The collaboration resulted in a white-label template platform that allows for more interactivity. It is designed for everyone, including influencers who need to monetize their content but only have YouTube or Twitch. It is all about how to have everything in one place without dealing with widgets and paywalls.
Their next big initiative is figuring out how to run a live, simultaneous music collaboration with more than one person without the latency.
“It’s interesting because there are a lot of ways in which things can come alive. Yes, we have to socially distance but there are ways to be safe and be more creative about how we’re presenting things. There’s so much that’s possible, people just need to learn how to use or leverage the new technology.” – Lina Beaudin
Spartan Crew: Lending a Hand at London Hospitals
Spartan Crew is a production crewing company based in the UK who understand the value of a job well done and are happy to help make events of all sizes go off without a hitch. Spartan’s founders, Ciaran and Paz, are tirelessly dedicated to every job they get and to the crew they depend on.
When COVID-19 swept the globe, its effects were pervasive in the live event industry. Unfortunately, most of the events on their books were canceled as a result. Strict stay at home orders in the UK made it nearly impossible to leave home, even for noble causes. However, the Spartan team was able to do their part by providing crew members to help out at local emergency hospitals and ease the burden on the healthcare system.
Also, to bring a bit of levity to an otherwise tough situation, one of their crew members was able to make a viral video homage to a modern classic that he called “28 Coronas Later” in the shockingly empty streets of London.
Blue Ridge AVL: Shifting Gears to Make it Through Hard Times
Blue Ridge Event Production is an audio, visual, and lighting company based in Charlottesville, Virginia who boasts recognitions from Wedding Wire, Best of Charlottesville, and many others.
When they were coming out of their historically slow winter event season, 2020 was looking very promising. There were new relationships developing and new opportunities being explored. There was a bit of a “buzz” around the office coming into March. Everyone was gearing up to kick off the normally very busy Spring event season. At this point, there were mentions of the virus and how that might affect their business, but it seemed so remote. Even in mid-to-late February, hearing what was happening in China and other parts of the world so far away from Charlottesville.
Rumblings began to grow louder during the first week of March. At the beginning of the second week, COVID-19 became the major focus of discussion during their regular staff meeting. Cancellations and postponements began to happen the next day. Wednesday and Thursday, there was an avalanche of phone calls and emails requesting postponements and cancellations as clients assessed continuing their events during the pandemic situation. By Thursday afternoon, most of the events for the remainder of March, and almost all of April, had been moved back or gone away.
Not sure how they were going to continue to remain in business for the longer term, they studied the news for Disaster Assistance Relief programs. They applied for the loans the SBA was offering at the time, getting their applications in right at the onset of those offerings.
While waiting to receive the news on their loan applications, the Blue Ridge Audiovisual team began to discuss providing video-conferencing services. They wanted to offer something for those conference clients who were exploring new, remote and safer ways to get their message across to the applicable parties. Their first client was extremely pleased with the success of the teleconferencing services provided, which had about 800 participants, and in-turn recommended Blue Ridge to their colleagues in other sectors of the government. The leadership team at Blue Ridge started discussing this option with other clients and now they can now provide video conferencing packages for other types of events such as remote weddings and caterers providing live instructional cooking videos. The support they have received for the initiative has become a bright spot during these dark times – a viable service that is currently in demand until regular events start to resume and something that most likely will be relevant to clients in the future as an additional offering.
While the team at Blue Ridge hasn’t been able to bring all of their staff back from furlough, video conferencing, along with the loans they received have kept them moving in the right direction. They are continuously hopeful that the country will continue to act in the right manner to force this pandemic to subside. By Fall, they hope to see events beginning to resume towards normality. Blue Ridge is confident and excited to gear up for operations when that time comes.
Total Lighting Support: Entertaining their Community Safely and Supporting Artists
Total Lighting Support is a full-service production company based in Tucson, Arizona. When shutdowns began, they went from having one of the best years ever to losing business left and right with no end in sight. During the span of the pandemic, they knew they needed to reinvent themselves. While adapting was imperative, they never lost sign of where they came from and why they got into the industry in the first place.
Without skipping a beat, the TLS team set up a Sound Stage Streaming Studio, in their now very quiet warehouse, to provide a higher production quality to local musicians. The TLS team knew that musicians were still trying to get their music out despite the circumstances, and they were in just as much need as anyone.
They also put together a series of Drive-In Concerts for a local Music Hall/ Dinner Theater in town to provide yet another conduit for artists and to keep their team going.