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Gray Areas: Alternative shows try to fill concert void for venues

Two of the Mahoning Valley’s four first-run indoor movie complexes closing this week called attention to the film industry’s struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s far from the only entertainment business suffering.

News that negotiations had stalled early this week on a second stimulus package inspired the National Independent Venue Association to issue a statement Tuesday that once again highlighted the struggles faced by concert and performing arts venues.

“We have been sounding the alarm since April that if our members don’t get emergency assistance, they will go under forever — and it’s happening,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, director of communications for NIVA. “This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations and reach a deal quickly or there will be a mass collapse of this industry.”

Area venues and businesses that are members of NIVA include JAC Live, Packard Music Hall, Robins Theatre, Stambaugh Auditorium, Westside Bowl and The Wickyards.

Safety concerns and capacity limits make most of the events these venues host economically unfeasible, and the alternatives available so far won’t come close to offsetting the losses.

This week, Stambaugh Auditorium announced a virtual holiday concert with Grammy-nominated pianist Jim Brickman at 7 p.m. Dec 15. Stambaugh is one of seven venues that night’s live performance is supporting. Brickman brought his holiday tour to Stambaugh in 2018.

“Concertgoers” can buy tickets on Brickman’s website (www.jimbrickman.com) and pick the venue of their choice. The venue will receive a portion of the proceeds. He will play several online concerts in December in support of venues nationwide.

Tickets for the virtual concert only are $40. The $75 ticket includes an opportunity to interact with Brickman in the “Zoom Room” and a “stocking full of Christmas gifts” that will be delivered to the ticket buyer’s home. The $125 tickets include the previous perks as well as a virtual after-party with Brickman.

It’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, but I can’t imagine anyone but the most hardcore Brickman fans being willing to spend $40 to $125 to watch a concert on their laptop (or stream to their television with an HDMI cable).

Playhouse Square in Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust are involved in a similar venue. Both are involved in a livestream concert series called “Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway.”

The series will feature cabaret performances by Patti LuPone (“Evita,” “Gypsy,” “War Paint”) on Oct. 24, Laura Benanti (“Into the Woods,” “Nine,” “The Wedding Singer”) on Nov. 14 and Vanessa Williams (“Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Into the Woods”) on Dec. 5.

Tickets are $30 for each performance or $75 for the three-concert series. Tickets are available on their respective websites, and each arts organization will receive a portion of the proceeds for each ticket it sells.

It’s something — but it’s nowhere close to enough.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com

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