FAIRMONT — The coronavirus pandemic has left performers without audiences for nearly a year now, but many continue to practice and rehearse despite no audiences to wow.
Fairmont State University’s Academy for the Arts, for example, has been holding lessons and small recitals for its students. So, Academy Director Leigh Anne Bolyard came up with an idea that gives performers an online stage and audiences a virtual show that also raises money for the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties.
The show is called “A Song of Hope,” and will include performances from Academy students and other groups from Fairmont State as well as West Virginia University. Different performers have recorded their acts, and they will all be edited together and streamed to ticket buyers on Feb. 27.
“We have some pre-recorded footage from the Fairmont State Wind Ensemble... two collegiate singers and their treble choir,” Bolyard said. “Two pieces from WVU that were also pre-recorded and filmed on their campus, and some pieces were also filmed at the Robinson Grand.
“It’s really kind of a variety show. You’re going to be seeing instrumental solos, vocal solos, dance solos, some group numbers — really a lot of variety.”
Bolyard said the idea started with hosting a virtual variety show, which she pitched to the United Way as a fundraising event because the organization has had to cancel so many fundraisers throughout the pandemic.
“Performers aren’t really getting a chance to perform, venues are temporarily closed. This is a chance to give some local performers a virtual venue, kind of, and that’s really where this all came from,” Bolyard said. “We wanted to do this at the start of 2021 and show hope for a new year. That’s when we got the idea to tie in the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties, and we know they have been impacted by the pandemic as well and had to cancel a lot of events.”
The United Way held a similar virtual show last summer, “Cooped Up Cabaret,” and the organization tested a virtual meeting platform called Remo that allowed for a more immersive viewing experience. United Way Board Chair Dani DeVito said Remo is a good platform for making a virtual show feel almost like an in-person show.
“When you go into this space, you can choose your table, you can sit with your friends, you can kind of have your own private meeting with your friends, family members, whatever before the show technically starts,” DeVito said. “Once the show starts, it just streams live to your computer, your television, but it’s nice because it gives you a little bit of that socialization you would have at a live concert or play.”
DeVito said United Way administrators not only benefit from a virtual performance fundraiser, but also provide its organizers with a streaming platform. She said “Cooped Up Cabaret” was a popular draw for Marion County residents out-of-towners alike, and all were able to watch the show simultaneously because it was virtual.
“I think the ‘Cooped Up Cabaret’ was a little bit of a catalyst for this,” DeVito said. “We had a lot of success with it. People really liked it, people are really just looking for things that are new and different so we wanted to offer something similar again.”
Bolyard said this kind of virtual audience platform might be the future of community theater and arts programs, because of the ability for people across the world to watch a show at the same time.
“I think definitely this is kind of opening a new door to us for sure,” Bolyard said. “As performers, this is giving us an opportunity to maybe reach a wider audience, so if we have people who are outside our local community that would not normally get a chance to watch a live performance... they can tune in and watch this really live.”
The lack of live performances has impacted the performers themselves, but also theater enthusiasts who would normally attend shows frequently. DeVito said as a thespian herself, it has been a long wait to finally see a show in person again, but she is expects “A Song of Hope” will provide a small taste of a real theater show.
“We’re going on almost a year now of no live performances,” DeVito said. “This has been a tough year to get through; everyone is cooped up in their houses, nothing is open, nothing is going on, so I think this is just going to be a great way for people to have an enjoyable evening that they can get together with their family. It is going to be a couple hours of entertainment for you.”
While the show aims to provide a fun night of entertainment for donors of the United Way, Bolyard said there are some remnants of the real world in the show, the most evident of which is probably the presence of face masks on all of the performers.
“Patrons will see all of our performers who were recorded in masks,” Bolyard said. “We wanted to make sure that we took absolutely every precaution we could, so all performers will be wearing masks in the performance.”
A “Song of Hope” premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, and tickets, which cost $20 per screen, can be purchased at go.uwmtc.org/songofhope.