Freeman Stage’s ‘Special Season’ comes to an end

Tusk: The World’s No. 1 Tribute to Fleetwood Mac performed the final sold-out show of the 2020 Freeman Stage season on Saturday, Sept. 12. (The FreemanStage/Justin Odendhal)

SELBYVILLE – When Fleetwood Mac tribute band, Tusk, ended its performance earlier this month — the final show of the 2020 Freeman Stage season — with “Go Your Own Way,” it was a poignant moment for the staff and volunteers of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation. With the pandemic ravishing the performing arts industry around the world, this small but mighty team carved out their own way to safely put on live performances at the open-air venue in Selbyville.

“Seating pods” provided patrons with an 8-foot circle of safety in which to enjoy musical acts, ranging from Broadway stars, rock, Motown, orchestra and opera, to free Saturday morning events featuring music, magic and storytelling for young audiences.

Changes at the venue created a contactless and cashless experience, and stringent public health measures were put in place to protect patrons, volunteers, performers and staff.

Before each performance, Executive Director Patti Grimes would recite her “podcast,” outlining what was expected of patrons that evening (“No pod-hopping, masks worn whenever you leave the safety of your pod”). And audience members complied, most simply grateful to have the chance to listen to live music under the stars, a welcome distraction from the confines of a pandemic lifestyle.

On Sept. 13, the organization hosted a thank you celebration for its volunteer corps where the achievements of the season were recounted: a total of 49 performances, over 10,000 in attendance, and 202 artists and performers who were able to mount the stage for the first time since early March. And most important, a 100 percent public health safety record.

“We have always said that safety is our number one priority here at the Stage,” said Ms. Grimes. “But this year, the imperative of that statement could not have been any greater. Our goal was to complete the season we recreated back in June with everyone remaining safe and healthy. I couldn’t be more proud of this team for their commitment to that goal.”

Never one to rest on their laurels, The Freeman Stage will host a free Young Audience Series called “Arts Explorers” every Wednesday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. until the end of October.

“We would normally be conducting Arts in Education programming in the local schools at this time of the year, but the pandemic has precluded that,” Ms. Grimes said.

“Our hope is that this weekly program — in addition to other virtual arts experiences we’re planning — will provide children with a creative outlet and opportunity to experience the arts in a fun and entertaining way.”

To learn more or to register for “Arts Explorers,” visit freemanstage.org.

The staff and board of directors of The Freeman Stage are already hard at work on next season, although there are still many unknowns in the equation. They are closely following the efforts of the National Independent Venue Association, which has introduced “Save Our Stages” in the U.S. Senate, a $10 billion grant program to help performing arts organizations survive what has been called “an existential threat to the entire music industry.”

According to NIVA, revenue in the concert business nationwide is down 96 percent compared with last year and venerable music establishments across the country have or are planning to shut their doors permanently if government support does not materialize.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have received generous grant support through public funds and private charitable organizations and have an amazing, loyal group of sponsors who have helped sustain us this season,” Ms. Grimes said.

“But we will need to reimagine our approach again for next year if we are going to continue fulfilling our organization’s mission in the community.”