Usually, the Music Pier is swinging with activity. Walk by on any given summer night and you may hear echoes of performances happening live. The Ocean City Pops play, there’s at least four pageants, and shows by the Ocean City Theatre Company are performed weekly.
This summer though? Covid. None of these above things happened. But things are looking up. The Ocean City Theatre Company is raising money to keep the curtain open for its 2021 season.
“It’s definitely a different year for us. We usually consist of large group gatherings. It’s the only way we’re able to bring in financial revenue,” said Michael Hartman, founding artistic director. “We had to make some drastic cuts to our overhead.”
Even though they hadn’t started shows for the year when COVID-19 forced them to shut down, they were already spending money to get the rights and royalties.
“All of the shows we do, you have to pay rights and royalties so we were $20,000+ into the season. It was a rough start.” said Michael. “We were in New York City the Monday and Tuesday before everything shut down. We were doing auditions for all of the work that takes place to lay our groundwork for the summer.”
Some of the shows planned for 2020 might be rescheduled for 2021.
“We have to reapply for the rights. We are planning on carrying over most shows.
We’re waiting to see what the season is going to be. We base the budget on the number of seats that can be sold. We are waiting to see what the summer brings, ” said Michael.
Usually, the Theatre Company does a holiday show in the Music Pier.
“We traditionally do a holiday show, especially at the Music Pier and we’re not going to be able to do that. We’re weighing our options with [doing it] virtually. We still have to pay for the rights to do the music. I don’t know if it’s going to be worth our while,” Michael said.
However, there is a silver lining. There has been some of what Michael deems “COVID blessings.”
On November 6, they held a fundraiser outdoors at Luigi’s.
“Luigi’s outdoor setup is stunning. Nancy and Joe were great to work with. It’s an awesome meal outside. It’s family style seating. We had a salad, an appetizer. We had five different entrée options. Kelli Rabke did 45-50 minutes of Broadway and pop. She’s been in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Les Miserablès. She was part of the original cast of Children of Eden. Her partner is a piano player so he’s coming.”
The Theatre Company awards scholarships yearly, usually at a brunch. This year was different but the impact of the Theatre Company’s work was still felt.
“We presented the scholarships at one of our outdoor camps but we selected two of the kids to also give their speeches tonight. One girl started with us in 3rd grade and is now a freshman in college.”
They also offered some small classes throughout the fall.
“The small classes were sold out. We’re used to having 20-50 kids involved. We filled it (our classes) with nine people. If we can’t sell out with nine people, we have a problem.”
These small classes also featured two for adults.
“We started an adult musical theater dance class and an acting class.”
These classes were a big hit.
“It’s a ‘COVID blessing.’ It was a hit and it made us think outside of the box. I think adults were looking to do something for themselves. It’s been fun,” said Michael. “People are liking getting outside their comfort zones.”
There are other ways to support the Theatre Company.
“Every year we do a commemorative Ocean City Theatre Company Christmas ornament,” Michael said.
The Ocean City Coffee Company has teamed up with Theatre Company to create a blend called Off- Boardwalk.
“A portion of every bag will come back to us,” sad Michael.
“[It’s important that the] community recognizes and understands that the performing arts industry has been directly affected because of COVID. It’s really important that the community advocates for performing arts and live entertainment so that they can keep their legacy going forward,” Michael said. “The Ocean City Theatre Company brings a lot of things to the community. I think people really felt the loss of it.”