Entertainment rises to the virtual challenge

Johnny Wild and the Delights recently performed a livestream show on YouTube after nightly town square entertainment was put on hold. To view the show, visit bit.ly/3bMI5q0.

An industry that relies on the gathering of large crowds is now finding its footing online. On Sunday, Elton John, the Backstreet Boys, Billie Eilish and other artists appeared in the “iHeart Living Room Concert for America” presented by Fox in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual entertainment is happening on all levels ­— drive-in movies are making a comeback, new movies are being released digitally and entertainers are performing livestream concerts. “Arts organizations everywhere are doing their best to continue to create as best as possible considering the circumstances,” said Grace Zottig, stage manager at The Studio Theatre Tierra del Sol. “We are adapting to what is happening around us.”

Entertainment in The Villages is no exception. From local entertainer livestreams and an online “Don’t Tell Nonnie” event at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center to a livestream table reading of a play at The Studio Theatre and monologue coaching sessions offered via Zoom by The Sharon’s performing arts academy program, local artists and venues are doing everything they can to continue connecting with fans and honing their craft.

Johnny Wild and the Delights were one of the first local groups to utilize livestreaming. On March 19, the group performed a show on YouTube in lieu of a canceled entertainment on the square event in Brownwood. The following day, the group got Central Florida artists together for a telethon-style livestream performance.

Janice Doto, of the Village of Fernandina, tuned in for the band’s first livestream performance.

“Without entertainment on the square, it was the next best thing,” she said. “We especially enjoyed his country songs in the second hour.”

Entertainer Clark Barrios, who also frequents the squares, Katie Belle’s and Savannah Center, has been performing live on his Facebook page, “Clark Barrios, Vocalist/Entertainer.”

Barrios’ next livestream will take place around 4:30 p.m. Saturday and will be available to everyone who likes his Facebook page.

Kurt Frohlich, lead singer and guitar player in The Hooligans, has been doing solo concerts on the group’s patreon page, patreon.com/talentwrangler.

Frohlich performs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays for subscribers of his page. Subscriptions are $10 a month.

“I think people were reluctant at first,” Frolich said of his livestreams. “I don’t know if they thought things would be up and running sooner. As the days go by, I think people are realizing the only way they’ll get live music is from their homes.”

As someone who is used to performing in front of large live audiences, the livestreams have been a bit of a learning process for Frohlich.

“I’m getting the hang of it, but it’s definitely different,” Frohlich said. “Not seeing people’s faces is different, because that’s something you feed off of as a musician.”

The pandemic has hit musicians everywhere hard, and Frohlich looks forward to the day when he can play in The Villages again.

“The Villages has been the biggest supporters of The Hooligans, and we can’t wait to get back,” he said. “We made so many friends out there that feel like family.”

People are not only watching entertainment online, but learning it, too.

The Sharon’s performing arts academy program, which offers classes in acting, voice and more, is now utilizing Zoom, a video chat platform.

Participants can sign up for a free 30-minute coaching session on Zoom with The Sharon and The Studio’s artistic director, Whitney Morse or The Sharon’s director of education, Nathaniel Niemi.

After the first session, additional coaching is $15 per 30-minute session. Free sessions can be scheduled by emailing education@thesharon.com, and additional sessions can be purchased online at thevillagesentertainment.com.

“We felt that monologue coaching would be a great way to continue artistic collaboration in this time,” Niemi said. “It’s great for us to keep creating and crafting our art.”

Anyone who is working on a monologue — whether it’s memorized or not — is welcome to try this out, Niemi said.

Later this month, The Studio Theatre will hold a live table read of the play “Pygmalion” via Zoom.

The Zoom stream of “Pygmalion” can be accessed at 1 p.m. April 24 from The Studio’s Facebook page, “The Studio Theatre Tierra Del Sol.”

“This livestream is a way to reach our audiences and beyond with the same content you would normally see on our stage,” said Zottig, who will be directing the show.

“Pygmalion” refers to the Greek legend of the King of Cyprus, who sculpted an ivory statue of a woman and fell in love with it.

“George Bernard Shaw’s play personifies the legend and adds a lot of wit to go with it,” Zottig said. “There have been plenty of adaptations of the 1913 play, including ‘My Fair Lady,’ ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘She’s All That.’”

The cast includes Trevin Cooper, Whitney Morse, Joe Llorens, Bobbie Bell, Heather Currie, Nathaniel Niemi, Rachel Whittington, Alyson Johnson and Monica Titus.

The Studio isn’t the only local venue working on a livestream show. At 7:30 p.m. May 4, The Sharon will host “Don’t Tell Nonnie” via Facebook Live.

The livestream will be on The Sharon’s Facebook page, and it should pop up automatically at 7:30 p.m. If not, you may need to refresh the page.

“Don’t Tell Nonnie,” an open mic night that takes place in the lobby of The Sharon a few times a year, will be a bit different this time around.

“One, we will not be able to have an audience in the space, which means no unplanned singing,” Morse said.

Morse will instead be putting together an evening of offerings performed by friends and staff at The Sharon.

“The second way it will be different is that you all will be watching from home, for free, and of course you will have to make your own Nonnie Sour,” she said. “We will be streaming live on Facebook, so we encourage comments and requests. I am flexible and will always try to accommodate requests as best as I can.”

Morse said that she hopes the event gives viewers a little taste of something normal.

“I think we all miss life as it was before, and in this way I hope we can provide a bit of an escape and relief in this truly challenging time.”

Both the “Pygmalion” and “Don’t Tell Nonnie” livestreams are free, but each will include a link for those who wish to donate to Broadway Cares, an organization that raises funds for AIDS-related causes.

As an entertainer and a consumer of entertainment, Morse herself has been leaning heavily on livestreams and recorded theatrical productions.

“Going to the theater is such a huge part of my life, and it inspires me,” she said. “I have been spending time watching Hampstead Theatre’s offerings on Instagram, BroadwayHD and artists’ concerts on Facebook.”

Morse said that as a performer, the connection with the audience is what fills her cup, and now social media is the only opportunity to have that.

But entertainment isn’t going anywhere.

“In entertainment, these technologies have allowed for creatives everywhere to continue to share art,” Zottig said. “In a time where people are encouraged to stay home, art has to find a way in, too. Livestreaming has helped us stay connected with folks at home in a time where things are uncertain.”

Senior writer Kristen Fiore can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5270, or kristen.fiore@thevillagesmedia.com.