Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

I was supposed to throw a party this Sunday.

It was supposed to be one of Camerata’s Front Porch Concerts — the nonprofit art group’s version of the front yard and pickup truck performances that have become so popular since the live entertainment shutdown. Camerata put these concerts on through the fall, and had just started a holiday version.

Then son of Stay at Home struck. Our governor didn’t order a total shutdown — loved the emergency brake metaphor though.

One of the many new restrictions is a ban on gatherings of more than 15 people, even if it’s outside and they’re properly separated by 6 feet or more. That pretty much killed the concerts, and the party.

Camerata president Jan Hower and her cohorts had come up with a pretty good way to offer a little music and gather enough donations to help pay the bills. Then wave two, or three, struck.

What happened to Camerata is in a microcosm what has happened to performing arts organizations everywhere. And I’m hoping this latest setback isn’t a last nail in the coffin, so to speak.

And yes, I know this is happening to restaurateurs, bar owners, churches and more. But today I’m very interested in keeping the arts, specifically the performance arts, alive through this disastrous pandemic.

Apparently, the mayor and City Council have the same interest. They moved ahead Tuesday with a plan to provide qualifying artists with a $500 a month grant to help keep them alive and still creating art. It’s not winning the lottery, but every little bit helps.

As you know from reading past columns, I’m no fan of handouts. That is, I’m no fan of handouts during normal times. These times are far from normal.

Right now, people are relying on food giveaways just to keep families fed. You’ve read the stories about business owners and their employees hanging on by their fingernails. We can debate the value of rent forgiveness, but the very fact we’re talking about it is an indication of how bad the situation has become.

And actors, singers, musicians and all the technical people involved in the arts have been hit hard.

Remember that to make it as a performer, you have to have an audience. And back on March 16, when the shutdown was ordered, audiences were outlawed. Even when the no crowds rule was “relaxed,” audiences were limited to 25% of capacity. Even outdoor events require the 6-foot distancing rule, which is a limitation in itself.

Musicians and bands turned to YouTube and all those other social media platforms I know so little about. They have the same problem we newspapers have, though — how do you “monetize” (get paid for) what you’re putting out there in the ether. That approach doesn’t work real well for the Long Beach Symphony, though.

My personal performance go to has always been live theater. I’ve been blessed living here in Long Beach with all the options for high-quality plays — musicals, comedies, dramas. The big three — International City Theatre, Musical Theatre West and Long Beach Playhouse — are complemented by a number of lesser-known troupes from all over town. There’s the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, P3 Theatre Company, the Garage and others.

The big three in particular have professionals on staff who rely on the companies’ performances and fundraising for their livelihood. So what to do?

In one way or another, the theaters also have turned to the internet. Some have produced plays specifically for live streaming, then sold tickets to access the performances (ICT offered “Daisy,” Long Beach Shakespeare produced “As You Like It”). Others have leaned on the talent of their performers, offering up concerts, vignettes and new materials. All are counting on the generosity of their patrons, looking for end-of-the-year donations.

The city has helped arts organizations with some of its CARES Act money, and that has been important to keep the doors open while the curtain stays down. But resources are limited and precious little trickles down to the performers.

So that’s why the city action is helpful. It’s also why my little party would have helped. But since you couldn’t come to that, go on line for some entertainment. Or write a check.

Help me help the arts. It will pay off in the long run.


Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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