Leadership / 01.12.21
Live Events Professionals Kept Us Inspired and Engaged in 2020
Let’s face it, nothing beats being there in person when the curtain rises, the team takes the field or the band explodes into a fan favorite to start the show. But once the pandemic set in, everything changed, and live events professionals had to get creative to keep customers inspired and engaged.
“First came the shock; then came the unbelievability that we were not going to be playing or performing anytime soon; then came the acceptance; then came the action,” said Maureen Andersen, INTIX President and CEO, in a late-April Wednesday Wisdom (weekly call for the INTIX community) message.
Maureen asked, “So, what can we do?” And then “do” our industry did. In a year where events were shuttered, we saw creativity rise as ticketing and entertainment industry professionals looked to be of maximum service to our customers and organizations. Indeed, when the shows couldn’t go on, the lights still did, only differently. Venues became food banks, voting centers, field hospitals and emergency response centers. We saw drive-in events emerge, and livestreams delivered artful, joyful entertainment to our homes.
Here, we look back at just some of the unique and special stories of 2020 that showcase what incredible “doers” we have in our INTIX community.
Drive-In Art in Downtown Toronto
One of the very first drive-in COVID-19 workarounds was “Gogh by Car,” borne from what was originally intended to be a walk-through Immersive van Gogh experience and a serendipitous observation by co-producer Corey Ross.
As we shared in this feature story, when construction was underway on the immersive gallery in the former printing press room of the Toronto Star newspaper, Ross would go downtown from time to time to check on progress. It was easy enough. He would simply drive up to the old loading dock that newspaper vans had used in the past and park right inside the cavernous room. So, when COVID-19 struck, and a walk-through exhibit became a problem, Ross brainstormed. “I realized that if I could drive into the gallery, then maybe the public could do the same,” he said.
Ross continued, “We were really the first people anywhere to come out with a drive-in concept during the pandemic. We announced in April that we were going to pivot toward being a drive-in. That immediately generated a lot of enthusiasm, and we quickly sold another 10,000 tickets.”
While at the time of writing, both Immersive van Gogh and Gogh by Car are closed due to a provincewide lockdown in Ontario, both events have operated safely in a socially distanced manner throughout much of the pandemic.
Cellos, Cardio and Cinema in Colorado
Denver Arts & Venues kept music, movies and more playing in 2020. This Denver agency operates some of the region’s most popular facilities, including the Denver Performing Arts Complex, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, the Colorado Convention Center and Denver Coliseum.
Fun programs that Denver Arts & Venues championed include the Colorado Symphony’s Cellos Under Glass (four cellists over three nights performed 60-minute concerts behind Plexiglas at the Denver Performing Arts Complex Galleria; a performance snippet is viewable here) and the “Red Rocks Unpaused” virtual concert series that launched Sept. 1, 2020.
Also among its extremely well-received ventures during the pandemic was The Sculpture Park Fitness Series, a diverse lineup of socially distanced classes hosted from the edge of the Denver Performing Arts Complex. We’re talking everything from cardio and high-intensity interval training to yoga and meditation.
The Film on the Rocks program screened movies from the parking lot of Red Rocks Amphitheatre all summer long, too, providing safe entertainment for the community and putting people to work.
Concerts (and More) from the Car
As the summer rolled on, a plethora of drive-in concerts were successfully staged. This includes country superstar Garth Brooks, who aired a pre-recorded concert live at 300 drive-in locations across the U.S. and Canada. INTIX tagged along and reported back on a date night and girls night out at the show. It was the first date night in 100+ days for Tiffany Kelham and her husband Nate after isolating at home with their two young girls. Over in Salt Lake City, Utah, Deirdre Naff, General Manager of Smith’s Tix, planned a girls night out with three friends.
“Garth Brooks was really putting on a performance,” Kelham said. “You could tell there was no audience, but he was pointing at the cameras, and the cameras were showing all of the musicians supporting him. He talked to the audience just like he would at a live concert. He also asked people to turn their phone lights on and stick their arms outside of their car windows, then wave them from side to side. What he didn’t know is that people did it, but a lot of them were actually outside.”
Fans showing some smartphone love for Garth.
“I would go again just because it was fun to hang out with my friends, but I wouldn’t go for the concert. I would just be going because it was something we could do together,” said Naff, adding that improved technology — like high-definition screens and great sound outside of your vehicle — would elevate the experience.
There were some oddities out there, too, with one of Maureen Andersen’s favorites being the Russian drive-in concert. The video is worth a watch, she said, “but personally, I had to wonder about the taxis.”
For two weekends during the summer, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds hosted a Dinosaur Adventure Drive-Thru, featuring 80 life-size dinosaurs, including a 40-foot T-Rex, massive Triceratops, 30-foot tall Brontosaurus and many more. While indoor shows have been postponed, the tour continues to roar its way across the country for some drive-thru fun!
Puccini in the Parking Lot, Mini-Concerts on the Sidewalk
There has been something for opera fans during the pandemic, too. In Southern California, San Diego Opera hosted a four-night parking lot production of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” with a half-dozen big screens, sound transmitted to car stereos via FM radio and a new way to applaud the performers.
“After hearing these beautiful arias, people would honk,” said Risë Walter, Chief Marketing Officer for San Diego Opera. “They would actually honk and blink their headlights! To be standing backstage hearing that, I could feel it come up from my solar plexus and into my heart. It meant that people were really there and were really engaged!”
“We were able to pull this together — package it, sell it and be in a position where we were standing in a parking lot and welcoming back our patrons — all working from our homes. It’s great to be surrounded by such creative, thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive people at such a time. The opera is a big ship, we’re on a new course and we’re nowhere near all the way turned yet,” said Cliff Thrasher, Director of Patron Services for San Diego Opera.
On the other side of the country, America’s largest arts center began hosting a series of mini-concerts for essential workers on its outdoor campus, near a grove of trees and by a reflecting pool. With a maximum of five audience members, teachers, firefighters and health care providers were able to enjoy the outdoor performances, which featured one or two volunteer musicians from the New York Philharmonic.
As the summer went on, the New York Philharmonic started to think bigger — creating the NY Phil Bandwagon, turning a truck bed into a makeshift riser and pulling up to locations around the city for as many as three performances a day.
Supporting Social Justice
Protests and demonstrations were seen across the country after the May 25 police-involved killing of George Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis. As shared in this INTIX story, Philadelphia was the site of some of the most dramatic marches.
On June 6, several members of the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ extended family — board members, donors and staff — were involved in the organization of a social justice march in the city led by African American fraternities and sororities. The march gathered at nearby City Hall, so the Kimmel showed support by making its building available for rest, recovery and restrooms. The venue offered bottled water that was generously donated by a partner. In Brooklyn, New York, the Irondale Center also opened its doors to anyone making their voices heard, offering water, snacks, Wi-Fi and bathrooms. Similarly, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., opened up its venue as a place for protestors to safely rest, use the restrooms and recharge.
Cultural institutions throughout New York City also repurposed their spaces to provide places of respite for participants in the Black Lives Matter protests. Participating venues included Atlantic Theater’s Linda Gross Theater, the IRT Theater, the New York Theater Workshop, Playwrights Horizons and The Public Theater in Manhattan.
In Austin, Texas, the Paramount Theatre showed solidarity by displaying “Black Lives Matter” on its marquee. Paramount Theatre CEO and Executive Director Jim Ritts told INTIX, “We’re not just about movies. We are not just about live performance. We are in the business of reminding people how extraordinary humans can be. And, so, our marquee has become something of a communications tool that reflects who we are — our culture and our belief system — and that we recognize an important part of our community that is under siege. We send the message that we support what you are doing. Next, we’re going to have a quote up from Maya Angelou that says, ‘When you know better … do better.’”
The Paramount Theatre marquee
Efforts in England
Across the pond, our English entertainment industry peers opened their venue doors to prepare and distribute meals for households in need as well as care homes.
In May, for example, Compassion London moved its coronavirus emergency response operation to Wembley Stadium and used the stadium’s kitchens to prepare meals from donated food. Wembley’s Head of Culinary Henry Lomas helped run the kitchen and estimated that over 150,000 meals would be distributed from the venue, all made possible by professional chefs, food enthusiasts and volunteers.
Also in England, Theatre Manager Alice Gayk worked with the Oxford Food Bank to ensure none of New Theatre Oxford's supply stock — toilet paper, snacks, disinfectant cleaner, etc. — went to waste.
Stateside, there were also considerable efforts from the live events industry. Among them, the Washington Nationals teamed up with chef and philanthropist Jose Andres and his not-for-profit World Central Kitchen. Together, they used Nationals Park’s facilities to produce and distribute free meals in communities surrounding the ballpark, including hospitals and senior living enters.
In Atlanta, the Braves launched a partnership with the team’s concessionaire to distribute food to households in the Atlanta metropolitan area. “The initiative started on April 21,” said INTIX Chair Anthony Esposito, Vice President of Ticket Operations for the Braves, earlier this year. “It came about as our concessionaire had pre-ordered and began to prepare food pre-COVID for our first few home stands of the season. Once it was determined that the Major League Baseball season would not start on time, we worked with some of our corporate partners in the health care category to identify local facilities where we could provide meals for their workers. Our front-office staff has been tasked with volunteering for socially distanced shifts to work at Truist Park in the kitchen to prepare and package these meals for delivery. It has truly been a collaborative effort all around and shows the good that can come from a bad situation.”
The Atlanta Braves staff representing the Braves Home Plate Project.
Success in Sports
Across the United States and Canada, players were on the court, field, ice and green, either with limited or no fans in attendance.
The NBA played out its 2019-2020 season in a bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida. “Sometimes it is just silly the world we are in and we get odd commentaries on our current state. You've got to find the humor in this even as we honor the need,” said Maureen Andersen of the NBA’s MagicBand inside the NBA campus.
Ultimately, the LA Lakers beat the Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals. There were no recorded cases of COVID-19 for the teams playing in the isolation zone. Thanks, MagicBand?! Also of note, the teams came together to use their bubble as a platform for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Major League Baseball played a 60-game season in 2020, and fan cutouts were a huge hit in ballparks including Oracle Park, which is home to the San Francisco Giants.
The 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs were played over 65 days, with 24 teams in two bubbles. A total of 33,394 COVID-19 tests were administered reported ESPN, with zero positive results according to the NHL. The puck drops for 2021 on Jan. 13, with 56 regular season games and four temporary divisions: North, East, Central and West. Fans may be in attendance at some games; however, numbers will vary from team to team based on local market guidelines, similar to what we saw in the NFL and college football.
After professional golf was shut down for three months early in 2020, the PGA TOUR dedicated a business unit to developing a comprehensive “Return to Golf” plan that became regarded as a best practice in professional sports.
“It included a revised schedule and a host of additional changes,” said Joel Schuchmann, Vice President of Communications for the PGA TOUR, “the most significant being the health and safety portion of the plan. This was developed over the better part of three months with input from PGA TOUR medical adviser Dr. Tom Hospel, an expert in infectious diseases from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Federal Coronavirus Task Force, as well as other specialists and laboratory directors and in consultation with the other professional sports leagues. And, of course, we depended heavily on the support and cooperation of local and state governments in the markets where we are invited guests each week.”
Ultimately, the 2019-2020 PGA TOUR resumed in mid-June and played the remainder of the season without any spectators.
And as the holidays approached, the fun and 2020-style frivolity continued. So, we can’t help but share the gingerbread crew load-in one more time. These gingerbread roadies are about as creative as they come, friends.
If you or someone you know is doing something creative during these pandemic times, please share it with us via firstname.lastname@example.org. It could be featured in a future story and/or showcased to the INTIX community via a Wednesday Wisdom call.
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Tags: Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus