Don’t sweat the small stuff, they said. And then along came Covid-19, the smallest of small stuff that is toppling our healthcare systems, playing havoc with our daily lives and overthrowing world economies. The first indications, back in mid-March, that this virus was going to shake our ways of life were the various edicts to ban gatherings of more than 100 people. Due to this restriction, concert venues were the first to feel the effects of what was to come for the rest of the arts and businesses in our country. I talked with Andrew Truscott, Associate Director of Marketing at the The Grand Opera House in Wilmington about what their staff and management is doing during this unprecedented time of isolation to keep people connected and continue being a local torchbearer for the arts.
As everyone must do now, Andy and I started our conversation by asking each other “How are you doing?” Andy is healthy. He is hunkered down in West Chester with his fiancée Brittany, his dog Piper, good wi-fi and a work wardrobe that includes pants with elastic waistbands. I am well, too. To conduct the phone interview, I had to find a quiet spot in my small house away from the college students and husband doing work from home and the two dogs barking, admonishing all the squirrels to practice social distancing. If it isn’t already obvious, I am feeling a little punchy, but Andy is upbeat about the future of Wilmington’s art scene which immediately lifts my spirits.
The Grand started postponing events starting on March 12th, but it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to be small logistical blip. Soon their spring schedule was obliterated. While this means that some of the work running a venue has been eliminated, other areas, including future scheduling and public relations, are ramped up. Andy, along with the rest of the approximate 40-member staff at the Grand, started working from home on March 18th. I asked if there had been any layoffs. Andy assured me that the board and management of The Grand had no plans for layoffs at this time. But it also means that teamwork is more important than ever before. “We are all in this together.” I get the sense that by “we,” Andy means the word in the broader sense. We, his colleagues. We, the small business owners in Wilmington. We, those in the arts and entertainment industries. We, the patrons and arts consumers.
Workdays are different now (the aforementioned elasticized waistbands are just one example), but they still have their rhythms. The Grand staff promotes a sense of order and team-building in daily staff roundtables online at GoTo Meetings. The purpose of the meetings is to give department heads and leadership a chance to touch base with their departments, prioritize work, and ensure a consistency of messaging throughout the organization. And, too, they provide an opportunity for workplace bonding. Once a week, the meetings have a theme. Past themes have included pajamas, crazy hats, and Hawaiian shirts. Plus, once a week, they host an online staff social hour to let loose and have a drink (if you choose). The theme of the social hour has been the Netflix hit show Tiger King with each week zeroing in on a different couple of episodes. That is what they are doing to create camaraderie and positivity in their work environment, but that is just the beginning.
What The Grand is doing for the larger community can be divided into two categories: things they are doing now to help our community battle isolation and work they are doing for the future to ensure the arts are strong when we all emerge from our Netflix-weary, carb-loading stupors. This is first and foremost a health crisis. “The Grand Lady will be dressed in blue,” Andy told me. This is his way of saying that they will be lighting up the façade of the The Grand with blue lights once a week in tribute to the healthcare workers on the frontline in our community and world crisis. They are also hosting a coloring contest for kids to help design the lighting display for that happy day when The Grand reopens its doors to the public. To printout your coloring page and submission guidelines click here. (I’ll let you in on a little secret. The contest isn’t just for kids. They aren’t turning away Crayola-wielding adults from entering, so you may be competing against me. Just saying.)
For those of you who miss live music, The Grand has paired with WHYY On Tour! to host watch parties of past concert footage on The Grand’s Facebook page. Concerts will be aired on Tuesday and Thursdays at 7PM. They kicked it off with Dawes, followed by a double dose of Chicago, and up next is the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Check out The Grand’s Facebook page to see the concert footage and the schedule of future artists. Andy emphasized that “Yes, we are experiencing physical distancing, but it doesn’t have to mean social distancing.” We can still engage with each other, maintain social connection with one other, and we can still connect with the arts.
The Grand’s message at this time is simple. “Stay safe. Stay kind. Stay home. And stay hopeful.” The staying hopeful piece is the commitment the staff and board of The Grand are making to the future for arts in Wilmington. They are all working hard to reschedule postponed performances and to create a 2020-21 season that is uplifting and joyful. (They will save dark, gritty musicals for another day.) Performers want to get back out on the road and connect with fans. They want to launch the kind of season that puts smiles on the faces of patrons as we reconnect with the arts, with the city of Wilmington, and with each other. In return, The Grand is asking patrons to support them and other arts venues by purchasing tickets. Buy tickets to a show or two. Get a membership to a museum. Invest in the future of the arts in Wilmington in big and small ways. If nothing else, this quarantine has shown us al how important the arts are to all of us. Imagine what our confinements would have been like if we hadn’t had music, comedy, television, movies, photos and books to occupy our minds. Think of the ways you can express gratitude and show your support of the arts in the coming months.
As for the coming weeks? “Think of this as a brief intermission,” Andy tells me, repeating a point that Mark Fields, Executive Director of the Grand, said during a recent Facebook spot. And he further vows, “The curtains will rise agaIN.”