We’re quietly adding this page to the website as groundwork for a fundraising campaign that we hope to avoid. But we’re also making it public in case anyone stumbles across it and would like to pitch in.
Nearly everything that Stage 33 Live has accomplished – and it’s been a lot – has been because you helped, and frankly it just plain makes us uncomfortable to ask you yet again for even more. Last year we appealed to philanthropic foundations and it was a total bust… but to be fair, our applications were juggling a bunch of small, interrelated projects instead of one big one and were consequently woefully unfocused. We’re trying again this year, better. Currently waiting to hear back. We’re nothing if not hopeless optimists.
Most of the usual philanthropic foundations have converted their grant programs to COVID-19 relief this year, which is good. Except we’ve only been eligible to apply to one of them because until there’s enough income to sustain a payroll, we’ve chosen to pay the performers rather than ourselves. The underlying message being sent by the fund administrators, which is probably unintentional, is that mission fulfillment is secondary to payroll fulfillment. For us, that isn’t true.
We did find four foundations with grants we were eligible to request. As grants go, they’re on the small side. It’s possible that between them we might make the whole goal, though not necessarily likely.
From the start, upgrading the cameras has been the final and most expensive phase of the initial buildout, and that’s where we are. Ahead of schedule!
Expository dementia follows:
Stage 33 Live is a 501(c)3 serving southeastern Vermont and southwestern New Hampshire as an economic arts driver since 2017. Primarily, two communities are served: Bellows Falls and the surrounding mid-Connecticut River Valley region, and emerging creatives in music and spoken word arts from the area. The main service to both is promoting discovery by wider audiences.
COVID-19 is temporarily rewriting the way the mission gets fulfilled. Normally, Stage 33 Live organizes, promotes, hosts, and documents low-cost and by-donation listening events showcasing local and regional emerging performers and presenters of original material that entertain, educate, and inspire an underserved, low-income population; boost creatives from within the community; contribute to overall community pride; and bring outside dollars into the local economy. There is no other formalized program like Stage 33 Live in the southern Vermont and New Hampshire borderlands.
Since the COVID-19 shutdown, the emerging regional composer-performers and spoken word presenters served by Stage 33 Live have requested alternative methods and delivery to help regain some of their lost livelihood and momentum. The audience community has been similarly reaching out, a symbiosis. Performers in folk and ethnic music traditions in particular are circling the drain.
This project is to complete a webstream infrastructure and fund camera upgrades. The webstream architecture is in direct response to the pandemic, while cinecamera and editing upgrades are the planned final upgrade of the initial multi-year buildout. Both of these one-time improvements will be permanent and integral.
Many of the local performance creatives have turned to livestreams using phones and laptops, but have found them suffering from poor audio and picture, and attracting no new audience. Stage 33 Live seeks to elevate their efforts. With infrastructure improvements, when conditions permit, performance streams can originate from the Stage 33 Live stage with quality sound, look, and feel; and edited performance reels with ongoing downstream value can be provided.
Upgrading to broadcast-quality cinecameras and a professional editing workstation to produce evergreen, ready-to-air programming from Stage 33 Live’s documentation of the listening events for regional radio and television, including public broadcasting networks, is the final planned phase of the initial multi-year development plan. This will be the biggest step forward in mission fulfillment, exponentially expanding the breadth and effect of the service by signal-boosting the creatives far beyond their normal reach, with the byproduct of raising the reputation and visibility of the mid-Connecticut River Valley communities. Performance clip views in excess of 10,000 online provides a compelling proof of concept.
It will also be a significant move toward institutional sustainability. Well produced and widely disseminated media will be attractive as an underwriting vehicle for businesses and institutions. This will help address Stage 33 Live’s costs, infuse payroll dollars into the local economy, and establish guarantees for the performers and presenters.
Vermont PBS and VPR have broadcast footprints covering most of the state, as well as adjacent parts of New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and southern Quebec including Montreal. NHPBS and NHPR similarly cover nearly all of New Hampshire and extend into neighboring states and Canada. Independent TV and radio — public access, community, and locally-owned — will also be welcome to syndicate, as well as outlets in other New England states and beyond.
Most broadcasters require a full season’s production in advance, especially in the case of new programs. A computer workstation optimized for medium-length video production will reduce production time and accommodate the much-bigger cinecam files.
Consumer camcorders are presently being used to document, including off-brand “children’s” videocams that are sub-par for even standard-definition web product, and don’t approach the minimum quality or technical requirements for broadcast. (While the existing lower-visual-quality material wouldn’t meet standards to comprise full-length episodes, it could be used in “from the vault” segments.)
Stage 33 Live’s strikingly small “actual dollars” budget belies what’s been accomplished through aggressive thrift, creative re-purposing, hardscrabble ingenuity, and unflagging work, which is both a source of pride and frustration. Meeting contemporary broadcast specifications requires a high minimum threshold of specialized technology, and cutting any corners would be ill-advised.
Cash donations were being set aside for camera improvements, but with performances paused and donations along with them, the goal is increasingly distant. Institutions and foundations are being queried in this fundraising effort; public campaigns will be pursued for matching or shortfall. Stage 33 Live — with no payroll yet, and with all program revenue to date being disbursed entirely to the performers and presenters — has been ineligible to even apply to any COVID-19 relief programs.
Stage 33 Live is located in Bellows Falls, Vermont, which has poverty in excess of 25% (LMI was 61.21% per HUD based on ACS data 2006-2010, second only to Barre by less than one-half of one percent among Vermont’s Designated Downtowns); a low education rate; no institutions of higher learning; and almost no opportunities like Stage 33 Live offers, on the stage or in front of it — listening events that entertain, educate, and inspire; that boost performance creatives from within the community; and bolster pride of place. Community members have supported the initiative with financial and physical donations, expertise, time and muscle, and participation.
Though paused by mandate due to COVID-19, Stage 33 Live is not in existential crisis — when restrictions are lifted, it’s poised to continue its upward trajectory. Half or more of all arts and music venues are projected to close permanently if the pandemic shutdown lingers, as seems likely. The rate is as high as 90% for small independents. Respected organizations and venues in Vermont and New Hampshire aren’t going to survive; a terrible blow for the performers and audiences they serve, and the local economies they help support.