Despite ongoing COVID-19 dangers, results from a recent survey clearly show that Joplin-area residents are eager to attend live entertainment events in 2021.
More than 530 people participated in an “audience assessment survey” created by Connect2Culture, Joplin’s community arts agency. In it, the group gauged the public’s willingness to attend live, in-person events, such as concerts or plays — something that’s become scarce throughout the Joplin metropolitan area since the pandemic struck last March.
“What this survey says to us is that people are ready to go back, but they want the precautions in place,” said Emily Frankoski, C2C’s director. “They want live entertainment, but they want to feel safe.”
According to the survey, 51% of people would consider attending live, indoor events in the near future, she said. As for events held outdoors, 89% of the 535 individuals polled would consider attending.
“We are pleased” with the survey’s results, Frankoski said. “It helps give us confidence moving forward so we can have some guidelines. There are so many surveys out there, but to have one just focused on the Joplin area will help a lot and just makes a lot of sense.”
The 51% who felt comfortable viewing an indoor show or concert in 2021, she added, “I’m quite surprised by that. I knew outdoor (concerts) would be popular, but I’m pleased the indoor concert (percentage) was that high.”
That bodes well for local entertainment in 2021 and beyond, she said.
While there’s a growing urge to view live entertainment, safety remains a priority, the survey indicated. A large percentage of people indicated a preference to mesh entertainment with safety precautions at both indoor and outdoor events — namely temperature checks, wearing masks, social distancing, limited seating capacity and accessible sanitation stations, Frankoski said.
Even more telling, 79% of respondents said they would not be discouraged from attending a live indoor or outdoor event if such safety precautions were in place.
“People who want to go out and attend these things are fine with the (safety) precautions, so I think local organizations can feel comfortable that they can do … what health professionals and local government are suggesting we all do,” she said.
“I think if we had done this survey three or four months ago, we would have had much lower numbers,” Frankoski continued. “But I think the vaccines have made a lot more people optimistic.”
Bradley Crane, owner of the Joplin-based Bookhouse Cinema, said public interest for indoor big-screen movies hasn’t diminished despite COVID-19’s ongoing dangers.
“We had individuals call every day last year to find out when movies were playing,” he said. “COVID-19 hasn’t deterred some cinephiles from wanting live public screenings in the slightest.”
It wasn’t until COVID-19 case numbers declined that Crane felt it was safe enough to open Bookhouse’s single-screen cinema back up to the public.
“Last weekend was our first weekend with public screenings in months, and we had people in every show,” Crane said. “It’s wonderful for that to happen, but we’re aware of how devastating it would be for someone to get sick on our watch. We’re continuing to operate as if there were high risks right around the corner, and we’re staying up on trends in neighboring states.”
When local entertainment venues temporarily closed their doors last March because of the pandemic, only the two drive-in theaters in Carthage and Lamar opened once the national lockdown was lifted. The Lamar-based Plaza Theatre began screening Hollywood movies to limited audiences in late June. However, many other local theaters pivoted to embrace virtual audiences early on.
Bookhouse, for example, offered rentable movies directly to a person’s computer or smart television. The Joplin-based Studio 124 was forced to debut its first production, “Mayhem in Mayville,” via Facebook Live rather than the traditional live performance. Rehearsals for Joplin Little Theatre’s delayed show, “Enter Laughing,” were conducted via Zoom. Earlier this month, the Neosho-based ArtCon 2021 went virtual for the first time in its history, while Joplin’s Pro Musica is currently offering downloadable virtual concerts.
Despite these innovations, the C2C survey showed that people are growing tired of this trend. Only 53% of those surveyed said they would continue participating in virtual programming. Even more telling, they would only be willing to do so if the download/viewing fee was $15 or less — or better yet, free. and 34% of surveyors said they are no longer interested in virtual programming of any sort.
“I think a lot of people did turn to virtual programming” when there was little other choice, Frankoski said, “but what we’re seeing is there is nothing like live entertainment. I think people are just burned out. Some people are tired of it; some people don’t want to do it at all, and for some people, it competes against their (already busy) schedules.”
Becki Arnall, founder of Dream Theatre Company, echoed Frankoski’s sentiments.
“Our target market is burned out on online entertainment, and streaming options are not popular enough for us to accommodate at this time,” she said. “We are also seeing that genre and cast size does not seem to be a large factor in consumer show selection. It has also been noticed through box office conversation that people who do not generally consider themselves fans of theater or normally actively seek out alternative entertainment are looking for something to do. The pandemic has enhanced the want to try something new (and) attend a performance.”
Early on, Arnall rearranged shows to cater to live — but smaller — crowds.
“The ability to start out with small cast shows, restrict the audience capacity and grow in our comfort of handling the pandemic has really brought us to a point that we have managed to proceed back into a semblance of where we wanted to be, even though there are still events we plan to host in the future that are too large for us to safely do midpandemic,” she said.
Thankfully, she said, local audiences were more than willing to fill those available but limited seats.
“What we are seeing with public participation at (Studio 124) tells us that people are willing to get out,” she said.
Beginning in April, Pro Musica will begin holding a series of outdoor concerts with social distancing practices at the forefront. Late last summer and spilling into early fall, Bookhouse offered safe, outdoor movie screenings that were enthusiastically embraced by the community. and while details are vague at the moment, Frankoski said C2C hopes to hold outdoor concert performances throughout the month of July, perhaps using Mercy Park as a venue.
“We feel comfortable now, based on the (survey’s) information, to do something outdoors, with limited seating,” she said.
Added Arnall, “I really hope that this data and the C2C survey will ease the minds of anyone wondering if it’s OK to change and adapt to keep going. I also hope that the public sees that we’re all in this together and that taking it step by step, everything is going to be OK.”