When you serve Broadway fans and Broadway has been shut down, how do you solve a problem like
Maria a global pandemic?
We don’t have all the answers, but we’ve started trying with Broadway Does Southern Rock. This was our first fire escape concert that utilized our parking lot as audience seating, with “pod” squares drawn out for social distancing. The show was a Broadway-style cabaret with community performers that adapted Southern Rock songs. Why Southern Rock? This genre was born in Macon, Georgia and The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, and Wet Willie (who were all represented in the song choices) all recorded at Capricorn Records downtown, which has been recently restored as Mercer Music at Capricorn.
I serve as the director of marketing for The Grand and Mercer University’s other arts programs, but my background and education has previously been as a director and producer of grassroots ensemble theatre. I have taken on this role for our cabaret concerts, dipping back into the life of running auditions and rehearsals with the performers. None of this would be possible without McKinley Starks, a pianist who formed the Bite-Sized Broadway series with me earlier in the year and served as music director for the show.
It takes a lot to turn an indoor venue outdoors, and in fact, many indoor venues don’t quite have the space to do it. We were assisted by several factors that were assets we didn’t know we had.
- Though we are in the heart of downtown Macon, the building is attached to a large parking lot built for city employees (we share our space with the Bibb County courthouse). This lot is available to the public on weekends.
- We have an epic fire escape on the side of our historic building. This is a really sculptural area with multiple levels and staircases – it literally looks like it was created by a set designer.
- All of this space is adjacent to the theatre. So we can run out lights, sound, power, and there are doors that bring you directly in the building to a backstage area.
With all this, there is still a lot of maneuvering that takes place and Bob Mavity, our technical director, had to figure out an appropriate setup that would allow for sound (on a metal fire escape, not so easy of a task) to reach out into the parking lot and lighting choices that would be fun while allowing you to see a performer that is far away and high up.
The plan maintained social distance through seating pods – these made sure that people felt comfortable with the distance while getting the seat of their choice. In these pods, you could enjoy yourself how you chose – whether that was with takeout from a local restaurant or your favorite lounge chair.
You could also choose to sit further away on the fringes, instead of a pod. This ensured that your comfort level was met if you wanted to distance even MORE than the pods allowed. On the left is an example of a group that did this, along with a drink in the new clear plastic cups that allow us to drink outdoors in downtown Macon thanks to Newtown Macon.
Nikki Vincent, who normally handles patron services and rentals indoors (in air conditioned environments!), made a volunteer setup that scanned the perimeter to make sure that everyone knew where to go to get in and out of the concert. This flow allowed the space to be maintained and to preserve the event for ticket holders.
It was casual, but still felt like “togetherness” – you could see and hear the crowd while still being with your group.
The results were a lot of fun – for us and for our patrons. The event sold out on the morning of the performance. When asked about their experience…
What part of the experience made the deepest impression on you and your group, and why?
|Creative solution – first event we have attended since March. Very well done!|
|People trying to overcome such an unusual situation|
|how un crowded it was/felt|
|The music was wonderful and being outside the Grand was exciting, new and different.|
|It was just nice to be together with other theatre/music lovers. We’ve been starving for something to do!|
|The desire to provide entertainment in Macon for those of us starved for it!|
|Bring back the arts!! It brings people together.|
|Bringing back the arts. It brings us together and lifts us up.|
|Hearing the performer tell why the song was meaningful to them.|
|We were told that the weather was going to cancel the show . So we didn’t go.|
|The friendliness and efficiency of the staff/volunteers/bartenders.|
|People trying to overcome such an unusual situation|
For a brand new program that took place in an entirely different production environment than our staff is used to, this encouragement has been great to hear. We want to continue being able to serve the community in difficult times – to search for rainbows, as The Marshall Tucker Band says.
Right now, we aren’t sure how long the pandemic will last or what shows will be available. So we’ve been sticking to programs that showcase local stars – your friends and neighbors – and in the safest capacity available. You can read our safety plan here. Our next show has eight of the most interesting Macon residents in town appearing safely (one at a time) onstage telling stories for a live podcast recording. You will hear from a man who played backup with Otis Redding, one of your county elected commissioners, the architect of the College Hill neighborhood revitalization in Macon, a woman who claims to have the best front porch in town, and even more. Buy tickets now.
By opening our doors in whatever ways we can, we want to honor our mission as a vibrant community assembly resource. Now is a time of isolation, so we are hoping to provide connection – however we can reach you.