CULTURE CLUB: Uncommon candor of an event promoter

by CARI LEWIS, Executive Director, Door Community Auditorium

As Chief Programmer, Administrator, Manager and Fundraiser for Door Community Auditorium, I “get it” when I read accounts of turnover and turmoil in the performing arts industry across state and nationally.

In addition to 30 months of focusing on things outside of my wheelhouse, such as epidemiology, safety protocols, emergency budgets and filtration systems, the long period of not being able to just get together to sing in a band took its toll on me.

Even though we return to full capacity, welcome the crowds, and find our new balance, I grind my teeth even more at night, leading to more frequent neck strains and stress headaches. Maybe a few other factors contribute to this, but I assign a good deal of blame to two and a half years of not singing with friends and strangers.

Fifteen shows in the 26 shows of DCA 2022-23 Comeback Part II / Return-to-Full-Capacity Season, here are my observations from my current live performance presentation wheelhouse:

• Touring artists have been ready and re-energized to return to the road and on stage, but many still have practices aimed at keeping everyone healthy, employed and on the road. The whole touring machine seems to tend to be easier, freer and less contrived.

Yet just two and a half months ago, a conversation with a tour manager detailed the difficulty of touring with another artist’s 137-member COVID-19 bubble: how a COVID-positive member would affect — and can -be even derailed – a Tour set of over 30 cities.

Few of us care about big-name celebrities putting food on their tables, but if you think beyond the headliner to his band members, sound engineers, chargers, bus drivers, machinists, electricians, wardrobe designers – and all of the staff in each separate location – the human hardship and the economic impact quickly add up. Even more so when you add the businesses surrounding the sites, such as hotels, restaurants and car parks.

When we at DCA consider the impacts of our actions on the industry, our community, and ourselves, we have accepted the wisdom of the old adage, “A little bit of caution is better than sorry.” Yet the roots of show business and the performing arts are tied to creating, sharing, expressing, and transporting people from their daily lives for a period of time, so the concepts of “prudence” and of “healing” are somewhat depressing.

Monitoring, responding to, and implementing policy changes related to COVID-19 levels has continued to be part of our daily and weekly operations this summer, but we see this diminishing and hope it continues.

• Audiences were grateful, but not completely comfortable, to come back. We’ve had more nighttime “situations” this season than in my previous 17 seasons combined. Problems range from the overserved (“Clean up aisle 9!”), to belligerent (“You’re going to hear my lawyer!”), and downright weird (“I’d rather sleep under a fern!”), to people who s object to our COVID-19 protocols. (Some are unhappy with the existence of protocols, and others are unhappy with our enforcement of protocols.)

• Many positive points, however, softened the difficult times. The shows this year have been phenomenal, high quality, moving and magical.

And the public of Door County finds us. Although national performing arts organizations are averaging a 48% drop in attendance and a 31% drop in revenue (comparing 2022 to 2019), DCA will have three, possibly four sold out houses for the season. We’re currently at 90% of our budgeted box office revenue, and while we’re a bit below our goal for the season, we’ll call it a success.

We feel deep gratitude for our generous community and the emergency funding that helped us regain our full capacity and return to the predictable and unpredictable days of performing arts presentation.

During acclaimed bassist Victor Wooten and associate artist Q&A’s recent visit — which was more about life and philosophy and less about music — he offered his view of dark times.

I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “It’s like shooting an arrow. You must remove this arrow. And the tension rises and rises. It seems like you’re backing off just because you literally are. But all of this is necessary. Then the moment comes, you let go, and that arrow flies forward, straight and fast. I keep hope.

We too are hopeful. And, we invite our community to be with us for preflighting going back to the shows; join us in our silence/dream phase for the Door community annex, our next addition; supporting Gibraltar students performing in theatre, band and choir concerts on our stage this fall; and miss no opportunity to come together to sing. I missed that.