BRT Homecoming, at home

BRT Homecoming, at home

Since being shut down by the pandemic, Blackstone River Theatre has used the image of a ghost light, above, on its stage to represent that while they will be dark for awhile, they will be back. The stage will come back to life with music this weekend with BRT’s virtual 21st Homecoming Concert airing online on Saturday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m.
Annual Homecoming Concert fundraiser goes virtual

CUMBERLAND – The stage at Blackstone River Theatre will once again come alive with music this weekend, and you can be part of the celebration from the comfort of your own home.

2020 was scheduled to be a celebration of 20 years of Blackstone River Theatre programming at its Cumberland location, while also marking the nonprofit’s 10th Summer Solstice Festival event at Diamond Hill Park, said Executive Director Russell Gusetti. Since the shutdown due to COVID-19 was announced in March, the cultural arts center has been closed to in-person concerts and classes, just as most live entertainment venues have been.

“It really has been a harsh reality,” said Gusetti. “For two decades we have worked nonstop to create a venue for our community where they could see music and dance from around the world, and also learn these skills as part of our Heritage Arts Studio classes. Then it all stopped.”

“There’s not much worse than waking up each day and fully realizing that you really have no control over whether your chosen profession will survive,” said Gusetti. “But Blackstone River Theatre is ready to start fighting back.”

Gusetti said he has spent much of the last eight months fundraising as he seeks personal donations to offset BRT’s fixed expenses. He said efforts include a recent Facebook birthday fundraiser as well as a GoFundMe fundraiser. PayPal donations, checks and BRT memberships all help out as well.

He has also focused on building improvements at the theater this summer and fall including installation of a new roof, supported by a 2019 Champlin Foundation grant. Work has also begun on the creation of an outdoor class and small concert space behind the theater building, seeded by a “Take It Outside” grant secured by the town of Cumberland.

“It’s clear that programming in our immediate future will need to focus on an outside location. We will not be able to achieve more than 25 percent of what we could by programming inside, but at least it will feel somewhat normal, teaching and performing with people in attendance,” said Gusetti.

So what else can live entertainment venues do to survive during a pandemic? “My Board has challenged me to begin online programming, and I’ll admit I’ve dragged my heels a bit,” said Gusetti. “There was just so much of it out there already, not just venues but performers who are rightly trying to make a living any way they can.”

Gusetti said that he felt that much of his reluctance was due to poor audio or video quality or both. “I vowed that if we were going to do online concerts, we would produce and present them in such a way that we could do it up to the standards of being in Blackstone River Theatre itself. I have no interest in doing online programming that is not as professionally done as what we do live.”

That brings us to this weekend when BRT will present its first-ever virtual offering – their annual Homecoming Concert. For 20 years Homecoming has taken place at the theater and along with their silent auction, it has served as the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser of the year. This year, the 21st Homecoming Concert will instead air online on Saturday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m. As a bonus, with ticket purchase, viewers can watch it later or again, at any time, as part of a 72-hour rebroadcast. Tickets can be purchased at noonchorus.com/blackstone-river-theatre . Ticket price is $15 and an additional $3.81 charge is added on by the streaming platform. Because the event is designed to be a fundraiser, there is also a PayPal link if viewers want to donate when purchasing a ticket.

Featured performers will be Atwater~Donnelly, Partington & Sweeney, Ryefield Cove, Torrin Ryan, Kim Trusty, and The Vox Hunters. Gusetti said Blackstone River Theatre is also excited to showcase video offerings by the Celtic band RUNA and Canadian singer-songwriter David Francey, both who wanted to help a favorite venue. And, Gusetti said, “as our amazing friends do every year, the artists have all donated their performances.”

Gusetti said he also wanted to acknowledge Graham Mellor, of Sound Advice LLC, who has overseen and orchestrated the technical aspects of the event including a three-camera shoot, digital audio recording, working with the streaming service, and doing all the post-recording audio and video editing and synchronization.

“It’s clear that while it will never replace live, in-person shows, this format will be what programming will have to look like for the foreseeable future,” Gusetti said. “We are extremely fortunate to have Graham, who also serves on the Board and as lead sound technician at Blackstone River Theatre, in charge of this first-time effort. Since March, I have been doing enough that is outside of my professional comfort zone and was very thankful to let him take the lead on our first online offering.”

While Gusetti acknowledges that it certainly won’t be the same as gathering together in person at the theater, “We hope it will remind you what will be there for you when we can safely reopen. And I have to say,” he adds, “just meeting in person for the live recording, it was so great seeing friends and hearing actual music played in the theater once again. Online and onward!”

The Vox Hunters – Armand Aromin and Benedict Gagliardi, both of Providence – are videotaped Nov. 15 for the set they are donating to Blackstone River Theatre’s first-ever virtual Homecoming Concert, their annual fundraiser which will stream Nov. 28. Handling the recording process is Tom Weyman, who works at Providence’s Columbus Theatre, and Graham Mellor of Sound Advice, LLC and the theater’s sound engineer who has quarterbacked the nonprofit’s first self-produced online concert offering.