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Nearly One Year Later, CNY Arts Venues Try To Make The Most Of Virtual Shows Despite Challenges

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Central New York’s live performance spaces and other arts venues are hoping their efforts to reach audiences virtually over most of the past year pay off when patrons return in person after the pandemic.  But it hasn’t always been easy, and not all have been able to purchase equipment or have the technical expertise to make the transition. 

That has CNY Arts Executive Director Stephen Butler worried.

"There's actually a silence, especially from our commuity-based arts groups, than from some of the larger institutional arts, culture, and heritage organizations."

For example, Butler says Syracuse Stage has been successful in putting on virtual plays, and so has the Redhouse.  But he says it can get very complicated to try to safely produce these performances with pandemic protocols.

"You're looking for shows...are they two character or four character?   Can people come out and do a solo singing performance?  If it's a quartet, how far to they have to be apart?  How far apart does the film crew need to be?  All of these things  that go into this."

That's not to mention union rules and protections, licensing music for broadcast versus a live performance, different skillsets among videographers, and numerous other nuances.  Then, Butler says, you have to hope your audience can watch the production at home.

"You have to now be available to audiences who might have trouble getting in or not knows the password.  It's almost like a virtual house manager, where the ticket buyer might be confused about what seat to go to.  Now, you have to direct all of these things virtually."

Butler says the extra effort and cost just might not be worth it, since a household could buy just one ticket to watch a show, versus multiple seats.  But Butler says most audiences seem to sincerely appreciate the virtual connection to their favorite venues.

"They are interested in what this region is producing because there is a sense of loyalty, affection and understanding of the value that the local and regional arts, culture, and heritage organizations bring.  It's not as if we lost everyone to Netflix."

And, Butler says, in the end, the venues might have reached a broader audience in the process.  Still, he says plenty of organizations are clearly struggling.  Many have applied for assistance from the CNY Arts Impact Fund, which has raised half of their one million dollar goal.  The Gifford Foundation has also helped with grants.  Butler says most venues are also eligible for federal relief.  

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at