CULTURE CLUB: Uncommon Candor from an Event Promoter

by CARI LEWIS, Executive Director, Door Community Auditorium

As the head scheduler, administrator, manager and fundraiser for Door Community Auditorium, I “get it” when I read accounts of turnover and tumult within the live-performing-arts sector statewide and nationally.

In addition to 30 months of focusing on things outside of my wheelhouse, such as epidemiology, safety protocols, contingency budgets and filtration systems, the long stretch of simply not being able to gather to sing in a group has taken its toll on me. 

Even as we return to full capacity, welcome back crowds and find our new equilibrium, I’m still grinding my teeth more at night, leading to more frequent neck tension and stress headaches. Maybe a few other factors are contributing, but I assign a good portion of the blame to two and a half years without singing with friends and strangers.

Fifteen shows into DCA’s 26-show 2022-23 Comeback Part II/Return-to-Full-Capacity Season, here are my observations from my actual wheelhouse of presenting live performances: 

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

Still, it was just two and a half months ago when a conversation with a tour manager detailed the difficulty of touring with another artist’s 137-member COVID-19 bubble: how one COVID-positive member would affect – and possibly even derail – an entire 30-plus-city tour.

Few of us worry about big-name celebrities putting food on their tables, but if you think beyond the headliner to her or his band members, sound engineers, loaders, bus drivers, stagehands, electricians, wardrobe designers – and each separate venue’s entire staff – the human hardship and economic impact add up quickly. Even more so when you add in the businesses surrounding the venues, such as hotels, restaurants and parking garages. 

When we at DCA consider the impacts of our actions on the industry, our community and ourselves, we’ve accepted the wisdom of the old saying, “An ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure.” Yet the roots of show business and the performing arts are bound with creating, sharing, expressing and transporting people from their everyday lives for a spell, so the concepts of “caution” and “cure” are sort of downers. 

Monitoring, responding to and enacting policy changes related to COVID-19 levels continued to be a part of our day-to-day, week-to-week operations this summer, but we are seeing this lessen and hope that continues.

• Audiences have been appreciative, though not completely at ease, in returning. We’ve had more show-night “situations” this season than during my combined 17 seasons prior. The issues have ranged from the overserved (“Clean up on aisle 9!”), the belligerent (“You will be hearing from my attorney!”) and the downright weird (“I’d rather sleep under a fern!”), to people taking exception to our COVID-19 protocols. (Some are unhappy about the existence of any protocols, and others are unhappy about our enforcement of protocols.)

• Numerous bright spots have softened the difficult moments, however. This year’s shows have been phenomenal, high quality, moving and magical.

And Door County audiences are finding us again. Despite national performing-arts organizations averaging 48% decreases in attendance and 31% decreases in revenues (when comparing 2022 to 2019), DCA will have three, maybe four sellouts for the season. We’re currently at 90% of our budgeted ticket revenues, and even if we fall a bit short of our target for the season, we’ll call that a success. 

We feel deep gratitude for our generous community and the emergency funding that has helped us to return to full capacity and get back to the predictably unpredictable days of presenting live performing arts.

During the recent visit of the acclaimed bassist Victor Wooten and the associated artist Q&A – which was more about life and philosophy and less about music – he offered his way of looking at bleak times. 

I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “It’s like shooting an arrow. You’ve got to pull that arrow back. And the tension builds and builds. It seems like you’re just going backward because you literally are. But all that’s necessary. Then the moment comes, you let go, and that arrow flies forward, straight and fast. I remain hopeful.” 

We, too, are hopeful. And, we invite our community to be with us for preflight by coming back to shows; joining us in our quiet/dreaming phase for the Door Community Annex, our addition next door; supporting Gibraltar students who are performing in theater, band and choir concerts on our stage this fall; and not missing any opportunities to come together to sing. I have missed that.

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