CATCO Takes Their Fundraiser Virtual on April 16
When Leda Hoffmann came to Columbus as CATCO’s new Artistic Director for the 2020-2021 season, after acclaimed stints at Chicago’s Strawdog and the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, all plans had to account for a pandemic we haven’t seen in a century.
For the last year, she’s led the company through shifting actors’ equity regulations, overlapping safety guidelines, and assembled teams to create fascinating work that furthered the company’s artistic imprint, as well as advanced their well-known educational programs. This week, the company gathers virtually for their annual gala on April 16. I spoke with Hoffmann over Zoom about the year and the party.
Hoffmann summed up the year of experimentation with, “I’m glad we’ve gotten the stories that we’ve got out there, out there and we’ll see what happens next.”
Going into more detail, she said, “It’s been really weird. We’ve tried a whole bunch of random things we’ve never tried before. And at the end of the day, I’m just so excited about the way we’ve been able to experiment. I think we’ve learned a lot from these experiments.”
After overcoming the trepidation of not being able to form in-person relationships, Hoffmann said, “I feel like just from an artistic director relationship, things are going really well. I’ve got people who I’ve never met in person in my life, who I have spent hundreds of hours on zoom with; talking about art and life and how we make these plays. And those people are my good friends and collaborators now. Everyone’s been so welcoming and happy to share information with me about the city. And so I kind of feel like I’ve got a little bit of that base.”
The way we all picture a fundraising gala is almost as hard to imagine as picturing theater that’s not in-person was for most of us at the beginning of the pandemic. Hoffmann acknowledged that, but brought some particular skills to the table.
“I’ve actually been involved in a number of virtual fundraisers in the past year,” she said. “The theater company, where I used to be artistic director, our fundraiser was supposed to be March 13 or 14, 2020. And so we moved it virtually in less than 24 hours.”
Hoffmann chuckled as she recalled this, deploying the same charm and devotion to finding a solution that served her all season.
“And it was great. I got on this Google Meet chat that was streaming out to people via Facebook Live [and] just started talking,” Hoffman said. “We had no script. We had no idea. And as a fundraiser, [it] went well, because we could reach more people. It was this time where everyone was just freaking out about what the world was and feeling terrible for the impact on theaters. And also it was fun because people from all over the country or the world could tune in and see what we were up to.”
Using the expertise gained from a year of virtual theater, Hoffmann said, “For this one, we’re doing the same thing, but way, way more sophisticated [than the first fundraiser]. [For] sponsors at different levels, we’re getting them dinner from various local restaurants and things like that. But if you just want to watch it and be a part of it, chime into the chat, it’s totally free to participate. I’m thinking of it like infotainment, right? [With] performances, ideas, information, pictures of the work that we’ve been doing, sneak peeks of the work that’s to come, just ways to get kind of information out to people about what CATCO’s up to.”
The gala’s MC’ed by a familiar face to local theatre fans, Christopher Austin, with musical direction from longtime collaborator Quinton Jones, and led off by Mr. Andrew from the CATCO education department.
For the Mr. Andrew piece, Hoffmann said, “There’ll be a Zoom link on our gala webpage and Andrew’s put together about half an hour of activities that you can do at home and make your own little story. So, good for adults and kids to join in. And I think that would just also be a nice way for all of us to connect in person-ish, over Zoom where we can see each other before we head into the show proper.”
The main gala features teasers from the final shows of the season, a virtual reimagining of the classic Studs Terkel adaptation Working and CATCOisKids’ Dear Edwina, along with a cavalcade of what Hoffmann called “Songs not from old CATCO shows [and] not from shows I promise to do in the future. They’re just songs that we like and can help us also talk about the work we do in classrooms [and] the new plays that we’re working on developing in a really fun, entertaining package.”
She talked a little about the logistical challenges of filming this.
“All the musical performances have all been filmed separately,” Hoffman explained. “Actually at one point, we have a whole virtual choir, 25 – I think, even more than that now – people. We send them the tracks and [and] they send us the audio recording. We put together the whole video in the same ways that we have been working to build our shows all season: you don’t have to leave your house, you don’t have to breathe the same air as everybody else.”
However, Christy Farnbauch, CATCO’s executive director, and Hoffman will be speaking from the Riffe Center, with Austin is emceeing.
That led me to ask – maybe tinged with nostalgia – about what it was like being back in those physical spaces.
“I’ve been in the theaters with some folks who walk in and go, ‘Oh my gosh. Wow.’” Hoffman said. “For me, I’ve sadly never been in those theaters with an audience, but just being in a theater, like I find immediately the light is on. Anytime I drop into the Riffe, whether it’s to grab a costume piece to put in the mail or whatever, it feels special to be in those spaces and know what has happened there and what’s about to happen there.”
On what’s about to happen there, hopefully, “People know that this has been a really hard year for us,” Hoffman said. “And I just keep hearing so much enthusiasm for coming back to the theater in-person and enthusiasm for the work that we’ve been able to do and the things that it reminds people of when they can see the work this year. So it hasn’t been easy, but when you can connect with people, everyone’s curious and excited and has great questions and ideas for what’s next.”
CATCO’s Virtual Gala is Friday, April 16 at 6 p.m. beginning with an all-ages segment from Mr. Andrew. To view and make donations, visit catco.org/gala.