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An arts organization adapts - Launchpad shifts to match trying times

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BANGOR – The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” But as we continue to navigate the turbulent waters of the pandemic, artists and arts organizations have largely been left to find their own way.

The truth is that the arts – particularly live performance – were the first to go away and will likely be the last to return. What will it take to deal with this new reality?

Josh Gass is the managing director and co-founder of Launchpad, the Bangor-based arts incubator founded in 2014. Launchpad has been key in the origination and/or development of a wide array of creative projects over the years, from their initial Central Gallery in downtown Bangor to the All Roads Music Festival that began in 2015, and more recently their stewardship of the Bangor Arts Exchange upon its inception in 2017.

But for Launchpad – along with everyone else – it all changed in March of 2020. With performance venues shut down for months and only reopening at drastically reduced capacity at the beginning of August, the organization was faced with a budgetary shortfall and ongoing restrictions whose end date is currently indefinite.

“With the venue being closed from March 15 through August 1, and with current restrictions on our activities, the venue is currently in need of support and is down 75% in revenues from 2019,” said Gass in an email. “We did a small campaign in April, but we are looking at restrictions for live events being in place into mid-2021 and will need fundraising support to ensure a world without BAE is not the new normal.”

Gass and Launchpad have done their share of adaptation as we move into what promises to be a long winter. While venue restrictions have tightened the size of potential audiences, Launchpad has put significant safety protocols in place so that they might offer some live performances, albeit to considerably smaller crowds. They’ve also established a Creative Ed program, offering classes and workshops to artists and creatives of all interests and experience levels. We’ll soon see a membership push and major fundraising drive as well – keep an eye on www.wearelaunchpad.org for more information.

Obviously, Launchpad is far from the only organization that is struggling with the current circumstances – one need only take a look around at the area’s many artistic and cultural institutions to see that it’s tough all around right now. And all of these institutions have looked for ways to adapt, whether it is virtual programming or social media engagement or what have you – so many passionate people doing whatever they can to keep the arts around.

Check out just some of what Launchpad has to offer going forward. They’ve got some new versions of what came before and some brand-new offerings as well. Have a look and see what they have in store for you.

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Live Music

Obviously, this is a difficult arena through which to maneuver right now, with so much in flux with regards to the pandemic and the various responses to it. Launchpad has risen to the task and put into place some robust protocols that meet or exceed recommendations.

Here are the Launchpad health and safety guidelines for live performance from their website:

• Audience capacity is limited to 50 people
• All performances are in the BAE Ballroom
• Parties of up to four will be grouped together in pods (this includes standing pods or seated pods depending on the show)
• Online ticketing in advance is available and highly suggested
• Increased sanitation and safety precautions will be implemented by staff
• Masks are required when arriving and when not at your pod, e.g. shared spaces, hallways, bathrooms, etc
• Hand sanitizer will be available in multiple locations throughout the venue
• No contact bar services:
– Table service will be provided for all pods
– Drink menus will be available at your pod
• Entrance, exits, and restrooms will be marked appropriately for traffic flow management
• Attendees, staff or performers are expected to stay home if they feel ill or have had contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19

For those who are wondering, here’s Launchpad’s breakdown regarding pods:

All seats are GA Seated. Patrons will be shown to areas or “pods” when they arrive, which help maintain distancing in the room between parties. A pod is a grouping of up to four people who have chosen to attend the event together and who will be seated or standing together at a cocktail table, depending on the show. Tickets are non-refundable.

GA Seated 4-pod: Maximum of 4 people in your party. Includes 4x admissions, seated together. Includes a table and four chairs.
GA Seated 3-pod: Maximum of 3 people in your party. Includes 3x admissions, seated together. Includes a table and three chairs.
GA Seated 2-pod: Maximum of 2 people in your party. Includes 2x admissions, seated together. Includes a table and two chairs.
GA Seated 1-pod: Maximum of 1 person in your party. Includes 1x admissions, seated by yourself. Includes a table and one chair.

Again, while there are no guarantees in our current circumstances, you can rest assured that the folks at Launchpad and BAE have done their level best to do right by their audiences and their artists.

Here’s some of what’s currently on the slate for the rest of 2020.

Seth Warner Trio: A Tribute to John Prine – Nov. 7

Portland, Maine-based musician Seth Warner and his band will present PRINE TIME: A Celebration of John Prine at the Bangor Arts Exchange. Joining Seth at the BAE Ballroom will be Andy Argondizza, guitar, Scott Elliot, bass, and Marty Joyce – drums. Music for the evening will be drawn from the entirety of Prine’s amazing career as a writer and performer as well as selections by artists that were directly inspired by him.

(Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $21 in advance/$25 day of show/$18 for members.)

Town Meeting – Nov. 13

Winners of New England Music Award’s “2017 Roots Act of the Year,” Boston-based Town Meeting returned this past summer with their third full length album “Make Things Better,” a rollicking, melodic, foot-tapping good time dripping with harmonies and insightful songs. Comprised of brothers Luke Condon (vocals, guitar), Russ Condon (vocals, drums), Brendan “Babe” Condon (vocals, harmonica, percussion), Tim Cackett (Mandolin, lead guitar, vocals), and Derek Fimbel (bass, banjo, vocals) and formed in 2013 in Ayer, Massachusetts, they combine their love of ‘60s folk music with the raw, unbridled energy of punk rock.

(Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 in advance/$25 day of show/$18 for members.)

Buddusky w/The Jesses – Nov. 14

Launchpad welcomes a wealth of talent from Peru – Peru, Maine, that is – to the BAE stage for this show. Buddusky is an indie rock duo made of Jeshua Doyon (guitars and vocals) and Dean Arsenault (drums and vocals), bringing their own unique energy to the proceedings. They’ll be joined by indie-pop group (and fellow Peruvians) The Jesses.

(Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $12 in advance/$15 day of show/$10 for members.)

When Particles Collide – Nov. 20

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the area music scene over the past few years is well aware of who When Particles Collide is. The rock duo – made up of guitarist Sasha Alcott and drummer Chris Viner – were a vital part of the region’s musical fabric before packing up their van and heading out to live the touring dream. This won’t be their first time gracing the BAE stage, nor will it likely be their last. Check out their brand of powerful, thoughtful music – and be aware, acoustic or electric, they never fail to bring the rock.

(Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $17 in advance/$20 day of show/$15 for members.)

Rustic Overtones – Nov. 21

Honestly, what more need to be said about Rustic Overtones? We’re talking about Maine music legends here. But for those who are somehow unfamiliar, here you go: Rustic Overtones is a seven-piece rock band from Portland that boasts a discography spanning 20 years. The band’s unique version of indie rock is strongly influenced by soul music, garage punk, jazz and psychedelic music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Best known for their energetic live shows and perceptual songwriting, they have collaborated and recorded with David Bowie, Ray Lamontagne and Eric Krasno, among others, and lyricist and frontman Dave Gutter is a prominent songwriter, having penned songs for Aaron Neville, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Eric Krasno, Res, Gramatik, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton.

(Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 in advance/$17 for members.)

The Heather Pierson Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas – Dec. 12

In what has become a beloved holiday tradition here in the area, the Heather Pierson Trio will be returning to the BAE stage to perform the entire musical score of the classic Peanuts special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Pierson – a pianist and singer/songwriter – will be joined by bassist Shawn Nadeau and drummer Craig Bryan; the trio will perform not only the entirety of Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” album, but a number of other well-known (and not-so-well-known) Christmas tunes. A fun Yuletide treat for all ages.

(Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 in advance/$25 day of show/$18 for members.)

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Creative Ed

This is one of the new programs put forward by Launchpad to continue to serve the public and help fulfill its creative mission. This fall has seen a number of classes and workshops offered, led by working artists. It’s an effort to offer affordable and accessible creative learning opportunities in artistic disciplines.

Creative engagement has always been a primary focus of Launchpad; these educational offerings are just one more way in which they execute their mission.

Creative Ed offerings fall into one of three categories:

Classes – These are topic-focused offerings, usually taking place in one or two sessions.

Workshops – These offerings are extended, multi-class courses that may meet weekly and are intended to put forward a more immersive experience.

Open Studios – These are individual one-hour sessions, intended to provide a safe and welcoming environment for artists of all skill levels to practice their craft in an open environment without instruction.

Creative Ed offerings also offer levels, with Level I being beginner, Level II intermediate and Level III advanced. While all classes are open for anyone to participate, one would likely benefit from using these tiers as a guide with regard to selection. In addition, many of these offerings include a virtual option – be sure to check the details when you go to sign up.

Fees vary depending on the offering and are paid in advance. However, Launchpad believes that cost should not be prohibitive and offers a voucher program that can potentially reduce some or all tuition costs.

As for what sorts of offerings are available, a visit to learn.wearelaunchpad.org will give you a full breakdown of classes, times and cost. Here’s a sampling of some of this fall’s Creative Ed programs.

Music Industry Workshop

This six-week program began on October 14 and runs through November 18. Led by Sasha Alcott, its intent is to help Maine musicians further their professional careers. The workshop features weekly topics – examples include How to Get Booked, Marketing/Self-Promotion and DIY Touring – as well as guests to discuss said topics. Obviously, you can’t sign on for this go-round – it’s already half-over – but it’s a perfect example of the kind of outside-the-box offering you can only get from something like Launchpad.

Photography

The fall features a couple of photography options for aspiring shutterbugs. The Intro to Fine Art Photography – a Level I class – is a one-off that pops up a few times over the course of the fall. It’s a two-hour class that provides participants with an introduction to photography as a creative art form. Then there’s the just-started How to Photograph People workshop – a Level II offering – which is a four-week workshop intended for intermediate and experienced photographers. All of these classes are taught by local photographer A.R. Clark.

Dance

Launchpad’s Creative Ed features a robust selection of dance offerings for people of various experience levels. There are introductory/intermediate classes in such disparate genres as Ballet, Jazz, Lindy Swing, Hip-Hop, Heels and Dance Fitness, as well as a Choreography class – all taught by gifted, experienced dance teachers. For those looking for something more intensive, Creative Ed featured a Dance Masterclass series, with sessions for both intro/intermediate and intermediate experienced (though it should be noted that this workshop has just concluded). No matter what your movement interest, there’s something here for you.

Visual Art

In this arena, we have a pair of Open Studio series – Figure Drawing and Still Life Drawing. Each of these sessions is drop-in and runs for 60-90 minutes. Open Studio welcomes artists of all ages and experience levels, though it should be noted that artists must provide their own materials – they are not included in the registration fee. It’s an opportunity to hone your craft while in the company of others seeking the same – a welcome chance for artistic growth.

Launchpad also has plans in place for winter and spring Creative Ed terms, so there will be even more interesting offerings coming down the pike in the weeks and months to come. Be sure to check in with the website or follow Launchpad on Facebook to ensure that you don’t miss out on the perfect creative opportunity.

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My own Launchpad/BAE story

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I myself have been a significant beneficiary of what Launchpad and BAE bring to the community.

As many of you may know, I am a member of the local improv comedy troupe The Focus Group. We’ve been performing since 2009, though not since February of this year; circumstances led us to postpone and/or cancel every scheduled subsequent performance. Still, we are greatly looking forward to getting back onto the stage and making people laugh.

The stage in question – or at least one of them – is located at the Bangor Arts Exchange.

Our group’s relationship with BAE and Launchpad is a longstanding one. Back in the middle days of 2017, when the space was taking shape and the notion of what would take place there was still growing and evolving, Josh Gass approached me with an idea – what if The Focus Group became a regular part of the slate at BAE?

It was simple, a sort of every-other-month quasi-residency, one where we would perform shows on the stage in the beautifully appointed BAE ballroom space. It was an opportunity to expand our reach and add a regular venue to our performance rotation, all while giving Josh and Launchpad a consistent entry on the schedule. Just an absolute win-win. And if that had been the extent of the relationship, it would have been more than satisfactory.

But wait – there’s more.

See, we were also given access to the venue’s many rehearsal spaces. This allowed us to have a consistent place and time to practice – something we hadn’t had for some time. In turn, this set practice situation allowed us to finally bring new members into the fold – something we hadn’t done due to the lack of rehearsal. Launchpad’s generosity allowed us to expand our ranks for the first time in a long time, resulting in the addition of people who have become vital members of the group.

Our first show at BAE was in October of 2017. It was a smashing success. And from there, we indeed would show up every week to practice and every other month to perform. Over the course of the following months and years, we became a part of the BAE family – an honor of which we continue to be proud.

(It’s worth noting that most of the time, when we rolled in for practice at 6 p.m. on a Monday, Josh would still be there, working on scheduling or bookkeeping or responding to artists or … you get the picture. His hard work – along with that of executive director/co-founder Meg Shorette and the other members of the Launchpad team – is a major reason why the project has seen such success over the years.)

Again, while much of this might have happened anyway, the reality is that if it had, it would have been a much more complicated and drawn-out proposition. Instead, we were given the gift of not just a new place to perform, but access to a space to hone our skills … all at once. We got to bring our silliness to a new stage, to occupy a once-forgotten room that had been renovated and reinvigorated.

And we are far from the only beneficiaries – scores of artists have reaped the rewards of having an organization and venue like this in our backyard. Musicians and dancers and actors and comedians – so many have seen their process and their work greatly enhanced thanks to Launchpad.

Yes, it has been a while since we took to the stage at BAE. And it might be a while still. But there is no disputing that we as a group have benefitted greatly from the generosity and hard work of the Launchpad crew. We are very much looking forward to huddling up, shouting our traditional shared curse word and rushing to the stage to make our standard array of fart jokes.

In the meantime, support these folks however you can. Make a donation. Sign up for their classes or workshops. Attend one of the meticulously-handled live performances that they’ve tightrope-walked into existence in this troubled time. Do whatever feels right, but do SOMETHING. They can use our help. And for all that they’ve given to the artistic community over the years, they deserve it.

Last modified on Friday, 06 November 2020 13:11

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