When theatres and other cultural institutions began doing their part to ensure the safety of those that they serve by closing their doors during the rise of COVID-19, the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts remained steadfast in its mission. The theatre’s staff quickly began identifying and implementing new ways to help people connect with the arts—and with each other. One of these programs, which drew the attention of thousands, was an online talent contest called #columbiafamous.
“I felt that the pandemic shouldn’t stop us from entertaining the public and celebrating the arts. I also felt this would give people a positive way to express themselves while stuck at home,” said Columbia Theatre Artistic Director Jim Winter.
The result was overwhelmingly positive, with many people indeed viewing this as a great opportunity to express themselves through this both creative and social outlet. Over 60 people entered the contest, and over 3,500 voted.
The online contest began Monday, April 6, and spanned several weeks. Entrants of all ages were able to submit short video clips, approximately 60 seconds or less, in a variety of categories that included dancing, singing, acting, comedy, and instrumental music. A visual art category was also made available, allowing contestants to enter digital photographs.
Each week focused on preliminary contests in two of the talent categories. Contestants had four days to submit their entry. The Columbia staff then narrowed down the submissions to three finalists in each category. The finalists’ videos were posted for 24 hours, during which time the public voted for their favorites.
The winners in each category received two tickets to one of next season’s shows at the Columbia Theatre, an opportunity to perform or show their work at Hot August Night, and automatic entry into the grand prize contest for a pair of season tickets to Columbia Theatre’s 2020-2021 season.
Winners included Kennith Woods for dancing, Brett Allen for singing, Logan Dupuy for acting, Clara Norris for comedy, Austin Noel for instrumental music and the grand prize, Caitlin Moore for visual arts, and Cecilia Sciortino for the children’s grand prize.
“It was such a success that we definitely plan to make it an annual event,” said Winter.
“Since the winners in each category won tickets to a Columbia show, it also ended up being a really fun way for us to announce our next season. I think this will be the new way we roll out our upcoming seasons.”
In addition to this initiative, the Columbia Theatre has created further ways to help the community stay engaged with the arts during this difficult time. Columbia staff have been making a wide array of “virtual theatre” performances available on their website, columbiatheatre.org, with one to two videos added each week. Planning is currently underway on a project involving the visual arts. And for younger members of the community, Columbia’s first High School Playwriting Contest was recently announced and seeks one-act plays from area high school students, which will afford two winners a cash prize of $500 and staged readings at the Columbia Theatre as part of Fanfare in October, along with providing all participants with a creative and constructive outlet in a rapidly changing world.