Local theatres work to keep lights on during a difficult holiday season

NOW: Local theatres work to keep lights on during a difficult holiday season

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Every Holiday season, Performing Arts Centers across Michiana put on concerts and shows to unite the community and spread cheer.  For many performers, this time of year is the busiest. Now due to the COVID-19 crisis, theatres nationwide have found themselves going dark. During a season when the arts are especially important, how do they keep the lights on? 

“So while it might be dark now, we know the light will come eventually,” says Michelle Frank, Executive Director of the Lerner Theatre.   

The historic Lerner Theatre has been a staple in downtown Elkhart since 1924.

“There is just life in this building, and there is life in this downtown when there is an event happening at this theatre,” says Frank.   

This winter, it is putting a twist on its normal traditions to keep peoples’ spirits bright by incorporating new holiday themed musical window displays! And, even though the season schedule is on pause, the Lerner is working with the Elkhart-based group “Premier Arts” to offer the next best thing - virtual show called “The Lerner Christmas.” Executive artistic director, Craig Gibson, says supporting the industry now is more crucial than ever. 

“So it’s just all boats rise when the theatre is alive,” says Gibson. “It is a challenging time, and we have to think what do we want our arts communities to look like after COVID, and then support it today.”

In Warsaw, Winter is also a busy time for the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts where they are celebrating 65 successful years. The theatre, typically welcomes five-thousand students during the holiday season but not this year.

“It hurts us to not be able to do that for them but for them its really their first time being in a theatre,” says Jay Michaels, Executive Director at Wagon Wheel.   

Even without a traditional audience, the Wagon Wheel is powering through and pushing forward. A virtual production called “Home for the Holidays” is available for free on the center’s website. 

“We felt it was so important to do something,” says Scott Michaels, Artistic Director at Wagon Wheel.  

But what about in – person performances? 

“From the beginning of time theatre has been present in our culture and in our community. It is the simple little smiles of when people walk into the building and this finally feels like our old normal,” says Alex Price, Operations Manager for the Round Barn Theatre. 

The Round Barn Theatre at Nappanee is putting on a "Christmas Carol," but this year reducing capacity to 25%, enforcing masks for both performers and audience members, and requiring social distancing. Despite these restrictions, for performers like Jaclyn Shaw, the opportunity to be on stage is everything. 

“Theatre has been my entire life I have been performing since I was a child,” says Shaw. “If I didn’t have theatre I don’t know where I would be.”   

In South Bend, Art 4, a professional musical theatre production company is on a mission to give back amid all the uncertainty.

“These are times when singing and music are ramping up,” says Executive Director at Art 4, Aaron Albin.   

The nonprofit is putting on its Jingle Mingle event, virtually, on Facebook live and will feature festive performances and auction raffles all to support the arts community. 

“Knowing that singing live in public is one of the most unsafe things you can do right now, is pretty devastating for that industry,” says Mark Albin, Artistic Director at Art 4.   

And---how would you like to be a part of the show?

 “In a world where we can pretty much get anything on demand what’s going to reach out and speak to our community the most,” says Alastair Willis, Music Director of South Bend Symphony Orchestra.

The South Bend Civic Theatre and South Bend Symphony Orchestra are putting on the Light One Candle event which allows families to make a cameo in a holiday production simply by sending in a video holding a candle. Aaron Nichols, with SBCT says this is one way to bring people together at a time when they are kept apart.

“This has been a challenging time for the arts, but it has also been a challenging time for everyone the arts have a unique way of uniting of bringing together,” says Nichols.   

To show your support for the arts, not only can you support artists financially, but you can also tune into their virtual events. For the Lerner Theater’s production visit here. For the Wagon Wheel’s production visit here. The Roundhouse Barn Theatre’s production can be found here. For the Art 4’s Jingle Mingle visit here. And for the Light One Candle event for SBCT and SBSO visit here.

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