Boch Center President and CEO Joe Spaulding (center) directs a performance in the Wang Theatre featuring Mark Erelli and Lori McKenna. (Matthew Pacific)
Photo exhibition, streaming series helps keep connection to community
The Wang Theatre at Boston’s Boch Center is celebrating its 95th anniversary with an exhibit of photos of 1970s-era artists — Aerosmith, Queen, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd among them — performing on the stage of the venue, known at the time as Boston Music Hall.
The venue has been shuttered because of the pandemic, but as of Tuesday, the photos, shot by Ron Pownall, can be viewed online at BochCenter.org and are also being displayed on the theater’s digital marquee, Boch Center CEO Joe Spaulding said.
The Boch Center, which also includes the Shubert Theatre, has also launched a Ghost Light Series of concerts played by such artists as Tom Rush, Livingston Taylor and Lori McKenna. The shows are played to an empty house but are recorded for streaming and airing on New England Cable News, which will showcase a performance together by Rush, Jonathan Edwards and Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame on Friday. The half-hour shows regularly air every other Friday and have the potential to reach 3.2 million households, Spaulding said.
The shows have been produced by Spaulding and Scott Towers, the center’s director of tours .
The series is named for the single lamp left shining when everyone has left a theater, which is left illuminated, according to legend, to protect actors, patrons and artists from otherworldly ill fortune.
The series’ performances are illuminated only by the single lamp and sound is captured only by videocamera microphones, Spaulding said.
Those watching the shows are encouraged to go to bochcenter.org/donate to make a gift to the nonprofit Boch Center or the Folk American Roots Hall of Fame, which is at the center. The series is supported by Polar Beverages, JetBlue, Encore Boston Harbor and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 11.
Spaulding said the photo exhibit and concert series are key elements of keeping patrons and others engaged with the center, which typically does over 200 shows a year but has been off limits to large gatherings since March 12 and was forced to lay off 276 employees. Spaulding himself was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 6.
The shutdown came as both the Wang and Shubert theaters were enjoying strong seasons.
“When we closed, we decided that we really needed to support other organizations. For an example, keep our friends at Passim’s (Club Passim at Harvard Square in Cambridge) open doing livestreaming, support Folk Alliance, support Americana Music Festival, support those kinds of things,” he said. “But as time went on, we are one of the largest nonprofit performing arts centers in America and certainly we’re the kingpin in New England and we needed to show people that even though the lights were off, we were going to come back. That led us to create the Ghost Light Series, and it’s been a gigantic hit.”
Ten shows have been recorded so far. The last was due to air Dec. 18, but NECN, which is owned and operated by NBCUniversal, has asked that the series be extended into the new year, Spaulding said.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be back in the creative world and be producing and directing this show,” said Spaulding, who spent some time as a singer-songwriter after he was inspired as a teenager by seeing Tom Rush perform. He noted that Towers has years of video shooting and editing experience.
“I actually believe that the arts keeps us a civilized society and that I get to do God’s work every day,” Spaulding said. “The ability to show our public and the millions of people that come here that we’re still here, that we’re going to be back, seemed to be a great way to continue that.” He thinks it will be September before the center can reopen.
Spaulding says the Boch Center, which was able to secure Paycheck Protection Program money from the U.S. Small Business Administration, is actively supporting the National Independent Venue Association and pushing the Save Our Stages Act.
The Boch Center stands to be out $45 million to $50 million in lost revenue if it remains shuttered through September, Spaulding said.
“If 90% of us go out of business, where the hell are the artists going to play if we ever get back?” he asked rhetorically. “We’ve got to try and save all this, and we’ve been helping lead that charge.”