The Show Must Go On

Entertainment adjusts to the pandemic

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

At precisely the moment we need to be entertained the most, it seems it’s hard to come by.  One of the hardest hit sectors during the Covid 19 pandemic is the entertainment industry.  Movie theaters went dark, concerts went silent and live theatrical events were cancelled.  Hamilton County organizations and businesses though are resilient and many have found ways to continue to operate by “thinking outside the box”.

Concerts

One of the major entertainment players in Hamilton County is Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville.  The venue was one of three Live Nation amphitheaters around the country that held parking lot concerts featuring country artist Brad Paisley in July.  Dubbed “Live From the Drive-In, Ruoff General Manager Andrew Newport says it was a great first step toward reopening live entertainment and demonstrating that it’s possible to host events successfully and keep everyone safe and socially distanced too.

“It was an honor to be a part of one of the first major live music events of the summer and get some of the local Hamilton County and greater Indianapolis area employees and crews back to work, as well as doing our part to boost local businesses and the overall economy, he says adding that they are looking forward to presenting more shows when the time is right.  Although Live Nation does not reveal attendance figures, the event was a success.

Noblesville Parks resumed its free concerts in Federal Hill Park in late August, eventually limiting the size crowds by fencing off the venue and restricting entry. A grid chalked on the lawn with six foot squares helped maintain social distancing. 

Carmel Center for the Performing Arts

Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts also closed down in March and resumed on-site events in August.  President and CEO Jeffrey C. McDermott says they have made the decision to delay the start of their main concert season but they have a busy fall schedule of education and enrichment programming, resident company performances and rental events. 

He says they came up with a unique way of offering programming during the shutdown.  “Some programs we can still offer on site with physical distancing and other precautions, such as the Luminaries speaker series and the Faegre Drinker Peanut Butter & Jam children’s performance series. Meanwhile, we are expanding our video and streaming capabilities in order to offer other programs online or in hybrid online/on-site formats, often using some combination of Facebook, YouTube and Zoom teleconferencing,” says McDermott who adds that this fall they will premiere a new livestream performance series called Live at the Center.

McDermott thinks that If there is a bright side to this situation, it’s that they are connecting with audiences in new ways and also reaching people who didn’t know them before.  “Now more than ever, people need the inspiration and engagement and fellowship that the arts provide, and our job is to deliver that, regardless of the circumstances.”

Actors Theater of Indiana

Actors Theater of Indiana, the resident professional theater company at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, also cancelled shows at the outset of the pandemic.  ATI Artistic Director and Co-founder Don Farrell says they began an online Friday Night Facebook Live program "From Our Homes to Yours" in which they provided virtual entertainment every Friday from March 20 – May 29 and on the 4th of July, reaching over 33,000 viewers.

In the fall ATI will offer outdoor Drive-In Theatre concerts in which patrons will be entertained with live music from the safety of their vehicle. The Drive-In Theatre concerts will be held at the Monon Square Shopping Center.

Farrell says their unique programming has been a hit.  “Our patrons have responded extremely favorably towards our unique and shift of programming of which we are extremely grateful. During times like these, professional arts organizations are being hit very hard and the support and belief in us by our sponsors, subscribers, donors, and patrons is humbling. We simply would not exist without their support.” 

 

Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission

The Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission has presented Shakespeare in the Park at the Federal Hill Commons Amphitheater for 28 years making it the longest running in Central Indiana.  Commission President Joni Corbett says they created a unique way to be able to perform in July.  “We adapted our performance by using the Oral Interpretation method. Our actors were able to perform scenes spaced the recommended 6 feet apart with no actual touching or face-to-face interactions. Considering our original selection of The Taming of the Shrew did not lend itself to the oral interpretation method, we presented an array of Shakespearean Scenes,” she says adding that normally six performances are held per season and this year there was only one.

Main Street Productions of Westfield

At the beginning of the pandemic in March, Main Street Productions in Westfield cancelled its schedule and then reopened in a brand new theater at 220 North Union Street in Westfield in August with a youth production.

Vice President of Arts Jan Jamison says the shows were live as well as streamed.  “We are testing this method with The Monologue Show, and if successful, we may do it for all productions going forward until restrictions are lifted,” she says.

Jamison says that people are hesitant to go to the theater in such confined space despite the safety protocols.  Chairs in the Westfield theater are socially distanced and everyone is required to wear a mask.

Diana Movie Theater

The major chain multiplex theaters not only completely shut down, but Hollywood stopped releasing films for months.  The Diana Theater in Tipton is a family owned movie theater frequented by people from Hamilton County.  Co-owner Nick Paikos says the theater was closed for more than three months and opened in June just in time to celebrate its 94th anniversary.

Started by his grandfather, Paikos says if it weren’t for the small business loan they received from the federal government, the Diana Theater would have ended its long run.  “It kept us going; otherwise we would have shut down because of that.  With the money offered in covid relief we were able to reopen,” he says. 

Paikos says they are following safety and cleaning protocols with social distance markings and guidelines displayed in the lobby.  Inside the theater, patrons are seated in every other row and no one is allowed to sit directly in front or behind another row that has people in it.  Movie days and times have been pared down too with movies showing only Thursday through Sunday.  Their usual 400 person theater capacity has been cut in half. 

Since reopening attendance has been down for the older movies they are showing.  “Some of them are good, but they've all been slow.  We haven't gotten anywhere near our 200-capacity,” says Paikos who says hopefully it will pick up as they begin showing new movies again.  “We hope to get back to normal or as close as possible.  And we hope to get way beyond our 100 year anniversary in 6 years and keep the tradition going in Tipton.”

Pinheads

Entertaining kids isn’t easy and that’s where a venue like Pinheads in Fishers comes in.  They offer bowling, volleyball, an arcade, bar, grill and live music among other things.  Sales Manager Karen Smith says they shut their doors on March 30th and reopened in phases beginning June 14th.

She says all employees get a Covid-19 test every two weeks, they have installed new air purifiers and they check all Pinheads guests with temperature checks and a health questionnaire among other health protocols. 

Smith says they have not noticed much of a repercussion from the pandemic because most of their guests are just happy to be out and are happy with the protocols put in place. 

“I have hope that we will push through this low time in the entertainment industry.  We have no doubts that all businesses who can survive this pandemic will rise to the top of their markets.”