In the midst of social distancing concerns, what’s a large performing arts hall to do? Create a whole new lineup of virtual events.
Performing arts organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic, with many scheduled performances around the region postponed or canceled. The city-owned Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota is trying to make the most of the tricky time — and stay top of mind with patrons — by shifting to the virtual arena. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Booking and House Operations Manager Kyle Turoff tells Coffee Talk, “We’re still here, we’re still working and we’re still trying to bring some sort of live culture to the area.”
Van Wezel usually hosts orchestra, ballet and other musical performances, but with coroanvirus concerns, large-scale in-person events haven’t been possible. “Most of us in the performing arts center world, our business model is based on full capacity, not quarter capacity and not half capacity,” says Turoff.
In April, May and June, Van Wezel hosted virtual happy hours with music and chefs showing viewers how to make cocktails and appetizers. Also on the lineup is “A Killer Party,” a nine-part musical series. “We ended up selling just over 100 streams, which, in the course of three weeks, was pretty cool,” says Turoff.
There’s a virtual detective experience in October and a Gilbert and Sullivan performance. The Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker will keep a Christmas tradition alive virtually. “People come here for all different things,” says Turoff. “We’re trying a little bit of everything. We’re seeing what sticks and what doesn’t stick.”
Van Wezel sought out some events, while others approached the venue. “We went out and looked and found digital trivia,” says Turoff. “We have just as many people coming to us to say, ‘Hey, we have a country singer who is going to be coming out of his living room playing acoustic guitar. Is this something you would like, and what would you pay for it?’”
Van Wezel is starting to host some smaller in-person events, but it plans to continue to promote virtual events. “More and more is coming,” says Turoff. “People are understanding there is an audience of people who want to do this.”