Featured photo: The Tanger Center is planning on opening this October. (courtesy photo)

Sports events return to the Greensboro Coliseum while Tanger opening remains TBD

As the pandemic rages on, local arts organizations and events centers are cautiously optimistic about hosting large-scale events this year.

While some have decided to stay safe with all-virtual renditions, other entities will have to wait and see how the vaccine works to curb the epidemic.

“It’s very different without operating at full capacity,” said Matt Brown, the managing director of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex during a Jan. 19 Greensboro City Council work session presentation. “It’s not practical to have any live entertainment.”

The Coliseum Complex, which includes the Greensboro Coliseum, the Greensboro Aquatic Center and the Tanger Center, operated at a $7.5 million revenue loss last year due to the pandemic, with a total of about 1,000 events that were affected. The revenue loss does not include the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem which the Coliseum Complex books events for but is owned by Wake Forest University. Because of the revenue loss, Brown said that it just doesn’t make sense to open the Tanger Center at half capacity.

“We need to operate at full capacity to make it worthwhile financially,” he said.

Originally, the Tanger Center, downtown Greensboro’s new state-of-the-art performing arts center, was scheduled to open in March 2020. After the pandemic hit, the center had to cancel or reschedule 250 events, including a slate of Broadway shows. At this point, Brown said he’s hopeful that they’ll be able to kick off their Broadway performances sometime in October.

“We couldn’t be more appreciative of our season-ticket fanbase who remains 99 percent retention of our over 16,000 season tickets,” Brown said during the presentation. “That’s a remarkable national number, and it speaks to the success when we do open of how well our first season will be, and I can attest to you that our second season of Broadway will be even more phenomenal.”

The ACC tournament was abruptly canceled last year due to the pandemic. (photo by Todd Turner)

On the coliseum side, Brown said that “Greensboro will remain Tournament Town come February and March,” hosting both ACC and NCAA events. According to a schedule from Brown’s presentation, the Coliseum Complex is set to host eight ACC and NCAA events this year starting on Feb. 17 with the ACC Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. The ACC women’s and men’s basketball tournaments also return to the city after being relocated from Washington DC, where it was originally scheduled to be played this year. The women’s event takes place March 3-7 while the men’s tournament will take place a few days later, March 9-13. And while fans may rejoice at a sense of normalcy returning to the city, Brown clarified during the presentation that only friends and members of the teams’ families will be allowed inside the stadium to watch. Tickets will not be sold to the general public for these events, so fans will have to watch from home. Brown also added that the city is available to host any in-season ACC conference men’s games if events elsewhere in the country get canceled due to the pandemic.

“Greensboro stands ready, willing and available,” Brown said. “I’m optimistic and hopeful that they may have to come knocking on our door before the end of the season.”

As far as concerts go, Brown noted that all of the live shows scheduled for this year have either been rescheduled or canceled. These include tour stops from Justin Bieber and Janet Jackson, and a Jim Gaffigan comedy show. For rescheduled shows, the city will have to see whether larger gatherings will be allowed based on COVID-19 cases. In the meantime, Brown said they are making improvements to facilities and installed new air-filtration systems at the aquatic center and the Tanger Center.

Learn more about Coliseum complex events on their website at greensborocoliseum.com.

Greensboro Bound book festival remains virtual while Bookmarks plans for in-person events

This year’s Greensboro Bound festival will take place solely online. (courtesy photo)

While live shows and sports events at the Coliseum Complex will wait to continue in-person, one area book festival has decided to carry on as a completely virtual event this year.

“It’s definitely going to be a virtual festival,” said Brian Lampkin, the co-owner of Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro and an organizer for the Greensboro Bound Book Festival. “There will be no live, in-person events.”

Last year, organizers were forced to cancel the annual book festival, but this year, Lampkin said the beloved event will take place from May 13-16 and feature a separate festival focused just on children’s books — a first for Greensboro Bound — from March 3-6.

For this year’s event, Lampkin said organizers plan to host several dozen conversations with writers including poets Billy Collins, Ron Rash, Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor and chef Whitney Otawka to name a few. The festival, which in previous iterations had multiple in-person events, will instead stream pre-recorded conversations that will premier during the event and will also feature some Zoom events with authors. At the end of each day of the festival, there will be a livestreamed event, Lampkin said. Those interested in attending the festival will still have to pre-register like in previous years; the schedule is set to be released at the end of February.

Lampkin, who co-owns Scuppernong Books, where most of the Greensboro Bound events are held, said that the business has been doing surprisingly well despite the pandemic but that they miss being able to do in-person events.

“It’s how we kind of made our name,” Lampkin said. “Doing these great events all the time. When we can do them again, we will rethink how we can do them. We miss doing them.”

But for now, they’ll continue doing virtual events and look forward to patrons returning to the book festival in March and May.

In neighboring Winston-Salem, Jamie Rogers Southern, interim executive director at Bookmarks, said organizers plan on having their annual Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors mostly in-person on Sept. 25.

“It likely won’t look like it has in the past,” Southern said. “We’ll focus more on outdoors and we’re trying to figure out how we can best do that and keep it safe. So much will depend on where we are at that point.”

Last year was the first time in the 16 years of hosting the festival that organizers had to cancel, Southern said. This year, the event was moved a few weeks later than normal and includes a virtual component as well — via livestreams and pre-recorded content — so those who don’t feel comfortable attending in-person can still participate.

In 2019, the festival drew around 22,000 attendees and boasted patrons from all over the state and beyond. And while the bookstore was closed from mid-March to June, Southern said they’ve tried to keep their customers engaged by having multiple online events throughout the year.

“What’s been the most interesting thing is having author pairings that we wouldn’t normally have because of where the authors live or their schedules,” Southern said. “Having authors join us from around the world has been really great.”

Lampkin said having author events even virtually is important because writers, like everyone else, were hit hard due to COVID-19.

“What happened to writers is that they lost everything,” Lampkin said. “They would usually have events. We did want to at least try and do what we could to promote writers and their books.”

Southern said that she wants to resume in-person events at the bookstore this summer but in the meantime, hopes their customers continue to support them.

“I think it’s just important for people to know that we’re still doing a lot of things to stay connected to the community,” Southern said.

Greensboro Bound is scheduled for May 13-16. Learn more at greensborobound.com. The Bookmarks festival is scheduled for Sept. 25. Learn more at bookmarksnc.org.

RiverRun Film Festival hopes to combine virtual screenings with drive-ins and in-person events

RiverRun has been doing drive-ins at Marketplace Cinemas (courtesy photo)

When the pandemic hit last year, Rob Davis, the executive director of RiverRun Film Festival, said staff had never done virtual screenings before. But since canceling last year’s festival, the organization has hosted close to 100 films either virtually or at a drive-in theater as part of a partnership with Marketplace Cinemas.

“Last year, we canceled the in-person component about two weeks prior to the festival,” Davis said. “The timing was such that we made the decision, but it was so close to festival time, we were not able to pivot and immediately do any virtual or outdoor screenings.”

The last year has given them plenty of time to plan for this year’s event, which will take place from May 6-16, Davis said.

“Now we feel like we have the expertise to do a festival with alternative screening mechanisms,” he said.

For the 23rd RiverRun International Film Festival, Davis said more than 1,400 films were submitted for consideration. Right now, the staff is still sifting through the works to decide which ones will be shown at this year’s hybrid event which will be a combination of virtual screenings and drive-in showings and possibly some socially distanced outdoor screenings. As in previous years, Davis said that the festival will feature close to 100 films for patrons to watch as well as Zoom events with filmmakers.

“We’re keeping the feel of the festival as much as possible,” Davis said.

Canceling last year’s event impacted the organization’s bottom line quite a bit, according to Davis.

“Financially we suffered a significant impact through loss of ticket revenues,” he said. “At the time we canceled the festival, ticket sales were exceptional, and it was looking like we would have had a record year for our box office.”

Still, quickly pivoting to a virtual model and a partnership with Marketplace Cinemas has helped the business carry on. The last drive-in event was in November; Davis said he hopes to resume those once the weather gets a bit warmer. He also said he wants to have some socially distanced screenings in time for the festival in May. Still, Davis said that the online option has increased awareness about the business to a broader audience.

“I love an in-person experience,” he says, “but the one thing I’ll say about virtual theater is that it exposes us to audience members that have never been a part of the RiverRun family before.”

Looking past May, Davis said he hopes to resume regular in-person screenings with guests in the fall and he hopes that 2022’s festival will look more like it has in the past.

“We’re looking towards the future, but right now it’s more like a moving target,” Davis said.

RiverRun is scheduled for May 6-16. Learn more at riverrunfilm.com.

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