Battle canceled until Schwartz plans get in sync


February’s Battle of the Schwartz Lip Sync Contest raised $65,000 for the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover, which closed its doors on June 30. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — With efforts to reopen the Schwartz Center for the Arts still ongoing and no firm group in place who will operate the State Street theater, the planned second Battle of the Schwartz Lip Sync Contest has been put on hold.

The event, which raised $65,000 for the Schwartz Center this past February, featured community notables and groups performing free-wheeling skits while lip-syncing to popular songs in front of judges and a sold-out crowd.

It was announced on Nov. 10 that despite the theater closing in June due to lagging revenue, the Lip Sync Battle would indeed take place on Feb. 10. Audition videos had begun to be accepted and a limited amount of tickets were put on sale Dec. 11.

However on Dec. 15, organizers announced that the event was “cancelled for now.”

A message on the Battle of the Schwartz Facebook page read in part “The negotiations with regards to reopening the theater are unfortunately at a standstill and therefore we are unable to move forward with the event.

“It is our sincere hope that as we turn toward the future, the theater will in fact return to our community and once again provide quality entertainment and house amazing events, such as our beloved battle.”

Katie Kramedas, organizer and co-host of the event, said that it was her decision to postpone the contest.

“I thought that the negotiations were a little bit further than they actually were. The bottom line is that I am not comfortable fundraising for an unknown entity,” she said.

Earlier this month, a Delaware Symphony Orchestra brass quintet concert that had been previously scheduled for the Schwartz Center in December was instead held at Central Middle School in Dover.

Ms. Kramedas said that move caused her to rethink her plans.

“That alerted me that things weren’t progressing as well as I had hoped,” he said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable moving on with it.”

Dover City Council President Tim Slavin, who has led the grass-roots effort to reopen the theater, said that he understood Ms. Kramedas’ hesitancy.

“The decision to cancel the Lip Sync Battle was understandable. We simply can’t ask the community to donate money when we don’t have a clear picture of what the long -term intentions of Wesley College and Delaware State University are in regards to owning the building. This came up in many conversations with many people in the community,” he said.

Wesley College and Delaware State University jointly own the property and building at 226 S. State St. that houses the Schwartz.

In a joint statement to the Delaware State News, Wesley and Delaware State spokesmen said that the schools “were surprised to learn of the cancellation of the lip sync event.”

“… we are hopeful that in the near future there will be a group of passionate and engaged community leaders that will reconstitute a board that will oversee the operations and running of the Schwartz theater,” the statement said. “Thanks to the tireless and dedicated efforts of Tim Slavin in generating community interest in an attempt to reconstitute a board and operating staff from interested and dedicated community members, we are hopeful that will become a reality by late spring.

“If the board can be reconstituted and an operational staff put in place, Wesley College and Delaware State University will provide the Schwartz Center for their use in the hope that we collectively can help the revitalization efforts of our downtown.”

Ms. Kramedas, who said that tickets were already selling well — and will now have to be refunded — estimated that next year’s event would have generated in excess of $100,000 for the Schwartz, which operated for almost 16 years after a major revitalization effort.

“Tim Slavin was in our corner and wanted to work with us. We were hopeful that the Battle would bring a good amount of money and lead to good things. Tim’s hands are tied. Same as me in a certain sense,” she said.

Mr. Slavin gathered a group of community leaders for talks this fall with a daylong charette, or meeting of stakeholders, held in November when participants focused on short-term goals for getting the theater reopened. A new board, whose members would be financially invested in the theater, was among priorities outlined that day.

An ultimate reopening celebration has been eyed for May 4, which is the Friday of Dover Days weekend in 2018.

Since its June closing, the theater has reopened to the public for one weekend in November when the Children’s Theater staged the holiday production “A Dickens Christmas Carol.”

Per an agreement with Wesley and Delaware State, the Children’s Theater was responsible for all operations during the shows on Nov. 17 and 18, which included ushering and cleanup duties.

The higher education schools’ statement did leave open the possibility that standalone events such as the Lip Sync Battle could be held at the Schwartz in the future.

“Just as we supported the Children’s Theatre production of ‘A Dickens Christmas Carol’ at the Schwartz Center back in November, Wesley College and Delaware State University will try and support events whenever possible, though limited in our ability since we are not staffed, nor resourced to manage and operate a theater day in and day out,” the statement read.

Ms. Kramedas said that without an active board and someone running the theater in place, she did not want to raise money for the Schwartz “under false pretenses.”

“When you fundraise, people want to know where the money is going. With me not having an answer right now, the most responsible thing to do was to pull the plug,” she said.

“Maybe this will be the wakeup call to ignite something to transpire.”

Mr. Slavin expressed confidence that, with continued talks with Wesley and Delaware State, a future is possible for the Schwartz.

“We are continuing to move forward to create a brand new ‘friends’ group. There is some heavy lifting involved but it will get done,” he said. “However, simultaneous with this effort is the need to know what level of engagement the colleges plan to have now, and into the future.

“We have been told that we cannot have ‘one-off’ events, which effectively shutters the building and limits our ability to raise funding. I’m hoping to find a middle ground with the colleges, which allows for the community to continue to engage with the performing arts center. There has been much interest from performers willing to donate their time and talents to help this cause. Right now, we simply have a closed theater.”

Until progress is made, the lavish set built for this year’s lip sync battle will stay in storage a little bit longer.

“I am hopeful we can continue with this. It will hopefully involve the theater or maybe even a different cause,” Ms. Kramedas said.

“We’re just regrouping right now. It’s a shame. I don’t know.”


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