Leadership / 06.09.20
Some Venues That Have Gone Dark Are Shining Brighter Than Ever
Our ballparks, theaters and performing arts centers may be closed for the summer, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t continuing to be vital, productive and even creative venues serving their local communities. Whether it’s a Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium’s kitchens being used to feed essential workers and/or the disadvantaged, a cinema marquee congratulating local high school graduates or a D.C. theater opening its doors to Black Lives Matters demonstrators and providing them with water, first aid and other items of need, these buildings and their operators are continuing to make a difference in lockdown.
Indeed, at some MLB parks, the crack of the bat and the thump of the catcher’s mitt have been replaced with the clanging of utensils and the sizzle of cooked food with teams playing a key role in distributing meals for good causes. The Atlanta Braves, for instance, has launched the Braves Home Plate Project, a partnership with the team’s concessionaire, Delaware North. The program is in response to food insecurity needs in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Led by Chef Pete Smithing, the kitchens at Truist Park have been prepping food originally purchased for the team’s April home games — food that had been stashed in the stadium’s freezers — to create thousands of meals for the community.
“The initiative started on April 21,” says INTIX Chair Anthony Esposito, Vice President of Ticket Operations for the Braves. “It came about as our concessionaire had preordered 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
Similarly, the Washington Nationals recently teamed up with chef and philanthropist Jose Andres and his not-for-profit World Central Kitchen to use Nationals Park’s facilities to produce and distribute free meals for the poor. “We knew low-income families would have immediate challenges related to food access surrounding COVID-19 protective measures, so we’ve made this area the central focus of our community response efforts,” a Washington Nationals spokesperson says. “Realizing that the Nationals are stewards of a civic asset — Nationals Park — which is uniquely suited to large-scale food production and is located in the heart of an at-risk community, the Nationals worked with Events DC [the ballpark’s landlord] to obtain permission to have several kitchens within the ballpark available for use by World Central Kitchen.”
The meals have been distributed in the communities surrounding Nationals Park and the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast Washington, D.C., including hospitals and senior living centers.
Other venues are taking advantage of their marquees to bring hope, joy and, for some, a bit of income while stages and screens remain dark. One example is the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Since early May, it has been offering up its marquee for free to the Class of 2020. Each week has been dedicated to a different area school, from Union Pines High School to Sandhills Community College. Graduates have flocked to the location to have their photos taken under the marquee while obeying social distancing guidelines. The marquee will be available for private rentals after June 14 for personalized messages.
The Sunrise Theater marquee
The Sunrise hosts first run and classic movies, simulcasts of the Met Opera and Bolshoi Ballet performances, live concerts, plays, live radio plays, children’s summer camps and more. “We continue to search for things to offer to the community to keep them entertained and happy, even while our doors are still closed,” says Sunrise Executive Director MaryBeth Poplyk. “Every Friday, theater staff serve concessions curbside. The Sunrise has the best popcorn, and it’s topped with real butter. People pick up the popcorn, locally made Sunrise candy bars, beer, wine, and sodas for the weekend. It’s another way that the community’s way of showing support until the theater reopens.”
With no shows and entertainment happening, the iconic Palace Theatre in Albany, New York, has teamed up with United Way to use its marquee to recognize United Way donors of $100 or more to the organization’s 518 COVID Relief Fund. Billy Piskutz, Executive Director at the Palace Theatre, and his team then send a photo of each donor’s name up in lights to the person as a special keepsake.
“We’ve always looked at the theatre as a community resource,” Piskutz says. “The Palace Theatre is a landmark in our region, and it’s a cool thing to have your name up in lights here and for such a good cause.”
The Palace Theatre marquee
Meanwhile, the Magenta Theater in Vancouver, Washington, is inviting area patrons and residents to help keep local theatre alive with “Magenta Marquee,” which allows community members to pay $50 to post a 48-hour message on its marquee. Messages are limited to all caps, a maximum of two lines, and must use the 60 letters from the theatre’s inventory. All proceeds go to the Magenta Theater to cover rent, utilities, insurance and other costs necessary to maintain the facility.
Jaynie E. Roberts, Executive Artistic Director at the Magenta, notes that messages so far have included inspirational quotes, birthday wishes, professions of love and messages of congratulations. “Anything deemed inappropriate or politically inclined will not be accepted,” she says. “One lady whose husband is in hospice and who has dementia knows that this year will be his final birthday on Earth. So, she had a particularly touching message to post. Other signs have been related to graduations, advice to stay safe and wear masks, wash your hands. No businesses have rented the marquee to date.”
And then there are just creative people doing creative things with features and amenities unique to their venues. For example, due to pandemic-related lockdowns, California’s Orange County has been marrying people out of empty ticket booths borrowed from the annual Orange County Fair. Volunteers at Raleigh Little Theatre in North Carolina have been using materials from the theatre’s costume department to make cloth masks for front-line responders and those who staff senior and assisted living communities.
Finally, there are those venues and venue operators who feel so moved by current events that they have used their facilities to help those standing up for a better day in America. One of the epicenters for protests in the wake of the police-involved killing of George Floyd has been Washington, D.C. Amid the daily and nightly demonstrations, empty performing arts venues throughout the nation’s capital have been opening up their interiors as safe spaces for protestors.
Among them has been the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Timmy Metzner, Director of Marketing for the Woolly Mammoth, says, “We are providing through the use of 60-plus volunteers water and snacks, a place to rest with air conditioning, restrooms, charging stations, first aid, pumping stations for new mothers and mental health support. Those entering must wear a mask and practice social distancing — we taped out on the floor designated areas for people — and a dedicated team of volunteers is also continuously cleaning and disinfecting the space through the day.”
The arts and sports have been catalysts of social change and community outreach for decades in this country. Thanks to people like Metzner, Esposito, Chef Jose and the others, the tradition continues. And we will be continuing this feature in a Part II coming very soon.
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Tags: Theater , Venues , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus