Live music – the heart of the Greenwich Odeum’s programming – is slowly coming back to the Main Street theater. After a Livingston Taylor show in October proved that socially distanced shows are possible, the theater has booked a set of shows for the spring. A performance by Damn the Torpedoes, a Tom Petty tribute band, that was cancelled last March is on for later this month. The show has already sold out the theater’s COVID-allowed 100 seats, to spread the show further. The Steely Dan tribute band Hey Nineteen returns on April 9.
Last year, the renovations the theater worked so hard for (read ) were finished in February – a new upstairs lounge and bar, two additional bathrooms, and balcony seating. But the theater didn’t even have a chance to celebrate its success before the lockdown began. What followed was a rush of creativity, as the theater’s staff found new ways to use the space. The first plan was to rent the marquee. “It was enough to keep the theatre lit. That was April and May, then it was planning, what are we going to do?” board chair Dan Speca said.
In the theater’s summer camp performances of Peter Pan, the new balcony became a hideout for socially distanced Lost Boys to sing safely during the show. Staff began to offer private bookings so people could use the big screen to watch movies with a small group. And the theater is now collaborating with Main Street restaurants to offer – a receipt from one of the participating restaurants can be swapped for two tickets to an upcoming Odeum screening of “Reality Bites” on May 1.
But for music, it’s still a complicated time for booking shows. Bands and venues, Speca explained, all depend on each other. If bands can’t get more than a handful of gigs for their tour, they simply can’t do it. “If Boston isn’t having shows and New York isn’t having shows, but we’re having shows – that doesn’t help the artist, because they’re not going to hopscotch. That’s what I worry about.”
He credits the newly formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) with a lot of the state- and national work that’s gone into preserving small theaters and performance spaces around the country. Last March, hundreds of venues realized they needed each other to get through the pandemic. Speca himself joined NIVA phone calls with senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed to explain the unique plight of performance venues during a pandemic.
“We can’t do takeout!” Speca said, referring to the restaurant industry’s pandemic lifeline.
Speca also praised the Odeum’s staff, including Amanda Ronchi, Shana Vanderweele Ortman, and Ashli Townsend, for coming up with so many creative uses of the theater within the constraints of social distancing. Thanks to a “let’s try lots of things” approach, the theater’s marque still shines bright – and you can still rent it too!
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