​The Show Must Go On … Line

Kasey Schumacher

the show must go on ...line—kasey schumacher—april 2020

I planned to have a very busy March and April. Between participating in co-hosting duties for the 66th annual CP Telethon, being one of 5 five women in Let Me Be Frank Productions' performance of "Girls on Thin Ice" and then performing in a main stage LMBF show, "Menoma Mia," I geared up for long nights and busy weekends.

And then, like the rest of the world, everything changed. The coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, started spreading across the globe and changing our definitions of normal. Government and CDC regulations and recommendations to shut things down and practice social distancing started off small but grew quite rapidly.

At Let Me Be Frank Productions, we closed our final performance of "Girls on Thin Ice," and most of the backstage chatter centered around what we were going to do moving forward as a troupe. The next morning on March 16, the cast and crew of "Menoma Mia" –slated to run April 3-25 at the Meyer Theatre– were notified that the show was officially canceled. It was a tough, yet necessary decision. Frank Hermans had to get affairs in order quickly. From canceling the creation of a backdrop to figuring out how audience members would be refunded, the ball started rolling in a situation none of us ever wanted, or expected, to be in.

As a performing troupe in the arts and entertainment industry, we were not alone in making these calls. It only took turning on the television or skimming social media channels to see that numerous events had been canceled across the nation. That included everything from sports seasons, to concerts, and even commencement ceremonies—a time-honored tradition students have waited to participate in.

The reaction to these cancelations has been intriguing to me. I have seen everything from denial and callousness, to anger and frustration, to trying to find the silver lining and remain optimistic despite a tragic global pandemic.

Those of us who find our joy and make our living by performing, teaching, and producing arts and entertainment now face uncharted waters. Fortunately, many decided to accept "social distancing" and taking self-quarantine measures is a new and current reality, and have responded in positive ways.

And it's not just here in Wisconsin. There are numerous examples of this type of an encouraging response across the world. One example is a now-viral video showing citizens singing operas out of their windows from their quarantined residences to uplift the people in their nearby communities.

On a national level, artists and entertainers have come up with alternative ways of sharing their crafts. Celebrities are hosting virtual dance parties and lessons. Lin Manuel-Miranda released never-before-heard versions of “Hamilton" songs. Josh Gad, known as the voice of snowman Olaf in the “Frozen" franchise among other prominent roles, started reading a children's book every night, live, on Twitter. His #GadBookClub is beginning to trend. My son adores books and being read to, so we sat down and listened to Josh share a story while making a memory as a family.

Here in Green Bay, I've also seen acts of "entertainment adaptation" as I've chosen to call it. Local radio DJs shared a video of themselves dancing to a hit song from “High School Musical" on Facebook and encouraged viewers to participate. Local 5 Live put out a call on their Facebook page to have parents share their children's artwork of any kind, and they're creating an online art gallery.

These examples are popping up daily. While I'd never wish for this situation, it's inspiring to see how those of us in the entertainment field have coped and created community, even in digital spaces. I was able to chat with many of my colleagues and friends to discover how they are handling this new reality.

Kaara McHugh, co-artistic director and voice teacher at Studio 12, explains.

“For the students and private teachers, we've transitioned everyone to online lessons because young people are usually good asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus. We executively decided to move all of our operations online to protect everyone. Ben Olejniczak [husband] and I are designing ad hoc classes and masterclasses to keep kids engaged in their repertoire and trying to create virtual recitals and performance opportunities so that they have something tangible to work towards. As for musicians, we want to offer our recital space and audio/visual equipment to stream concerts to make sure the musicians of Green Bay maintain their visibility and momentum (and financial states) but also to offer healing through music to their fanbases and perhaps, a broader audience!"

John Singer, a music educator, and guitarist describes his changes.

“As it stands, the virus situation hasn't impacted me super negatively yet. I had to call off lessons at the start of it, and I'm trying to work it out to do video conference lessons, but it's tough to get to the point when it's not so "hands-on." It makes it difficult to correct technique and play with a student through video conferences. Sometimes it lags, etc.; it's not an ideal situation, but instructors are finding ways to adapt. I know that a lot of my friends in the industry are doing the same. However, I know a lot of artists who rely on live performance for their income are finding interesting ways of making up for the lost income. I've seen groups doing live stream performances and linking their pay-pal, their merch page, etc. it's not the end of the world, but people are finding ways to keep the audience engaged. If we can't play, we need to find ways around it. We have the technology, and we can rebuild it."

Local musician, Paul Hanna of Annex offers this perspective.

“Everyone's lives have changed now. This is unprecedented. Our grandfathers were called out to war from the government, and we have just been asked to stay on the couch. I feel like the internet is going to be key in all of this. We can still stay connected in a way. I also feel music is such an escape for people, and in a time like this, many will want to play music, sing, dance. It's a scary time for all. I feel like the country needed a reset. This is a terrible thing but it might just bring this country back together again. I'm very curious about what songs will be coming out from all of this. It's awful that so many people lost their livelihood, but everyone will be affected by this. Any musician that does this solely for a living will always adapt and find a way to just make it work. It was a tough industry before and I'm pretty sure that it will be even tougher in days to come. I'm grateful for the years of being able to do this. I don't think this is the end. People need music in a time like this. Music can make you time travel. You can hear a song and go right to where you were when you heard it. As far as what's in the future, I think people will be sending ideas via Dropbox and collaborating even though we can't be in a room together. This will pass."

Adam Cain, drummer, music educator, and performer also shared his thoughts.

“As far as coping with our situation, you have to try and stay positive and have a good outlook. It's easier said than done sometimes. One of my other bands, Crooked Creek, are planning to do one or two Facebook live rehearsals, just to have an excuse to stay in shape with our instruments and play some music. Use this time to improve your craft!! So many industries are taking a hit right now. I think all sorts of creativity is possible right now in so many avenues. We really don't have a choice!"

PlaybyPlay Theatre's Carolyn Silverberg also offered her perspective.

“Fortunately for Play-by-Play, we weren't in the middle of a production like so many other groups, so we didn't have to immediately deal with postponements or cancellations. However, we're still very much in the unknown as far as future projects go. Our 'Theatre in the Park' event isn't until the end of June, and while we know this crisis won't be solved by then, we certainly hope we'll be able to get back to some sort of theatrical normalcy. Until that time comes, we're still taking it one day at a time and adapting, just like everyone else. And doing our part to make sure our audience stays informed. One of the things we can do — for Green Bay and for our own sanity — is to create positive engagement on social media. Because of social distancing and self-quarantine, people are spending time on social media now more than ever and our newsfeeds are cluttered with pretty much nothing else except posts on the coronavirus. While that news is important, it can certainly be overwhelming, and that's where we hope we're able to play a small part in bringing fun to the community and keeping spirits up.

Since it's March, we created our own version of March Madness called 'Play-by-Play's Play vs. Play.' We created a bracket of all of Shakespeare's plays and are having people vote for their favorite play on both Facebook and Instagram. It's a fun and easy way to bring a little much-needed distraction on social media as well as a way for people to engage with us and with each other while maintaining distance. It also helps us see which Shakespeare plays are people's favorites and help us plan which ones to do for future performances, so it's a win-win! When it comes down to it, we just want to be able to provide some fun and positivity in a sea of social media chaos. We also found out our 'Theatre in the Park' event was nominated for Best of the Bay, so we're super excited about that positive news and how, after all of this, we will continue to bring this free theatre experience to the city.

As for us at Let Me Be Frank Productions, Hermans is focusing on making choices that encourage a better today and tomorrow. For example, he shared a video of himself on Facebook, singing a song that would have been featured in "Menoma Mia." He's also posting personal videos of the entertaining life lessons his children are receiving at home while schools are closed. And, he's focusing on what's next for Let Me Be Frank Productions—he's writing our next show, Baxters – Where Everybody Knows Your Name, which will (fingers crossed) be shared to thousands of people looking for a good laugh and great '80s tunes this June at the Meyer Theatre.

While many of us couldn't imagine being in this position even a few months ago, my hope is that we as performers/musicians/producers can take pride in our resilient natures, our adaptable attitudes, and our ability to share music and entertainment in perhaps non-traditional, digital, ways.

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