If you took a shot for every time you’ve read about entertainers struggling through the pandemic, you’d probably be in for a hell of a rough morning. Bylines that center artists’ challenges over the past months have permeated the media landscape — it’s become nearly impossible to highlight a performer without mentioning COVID’s impact on their work. Not nearly as ubiquitous, though, is the focus on the arts-workers behind the scenes. The folks who, prior to this Spring, were booking our most hotly-anticipated concerts, pouring our libations, tapping the scene for the next big local talent. While everyone in the entertainment industry is hurting, the spotlight has largely remained on performing artists, with less recourse given to individuals who don’t take the stage. To fill the gap, we sat down with folks behind the scenes — two of the remaining four non-furloughed staffers at Boulder’s The Fox Theatre (and one formerly-employed bartender), the executive staff of performing-arts troupe, The Black Actor’s Guild and a music curator attempting to create positive atmospheres despite social distancing.
Christian Hee, Joe Golaszewski and Sait Oskay of the Fox Theatre
Formerly the centerpiece of The Hill – and much of Boulder’s college nightlife – the intimate and well-loved Fox Theatre has been shuttered since March 12th. We caught up with the Fox Theatre’s Senior Marketing Manager, Christian Hee, Talent Buyer Joe Golaszewski and bartender, Sait Oskay, to discuss how they’ve fared since the lights went dark.
303 Magazine: Tell us more about yourselves and your roles at Theatre.
Christian Hee: I’m the Senior Marketing Manager for Z2 entertainment, which runs The Fox, The Boulder Theater and The Aggie Theater in Fort Collins. I’ve been the senior marketing manager, pretty much since COVID started. The senior marketing manager before me decided after working for Z2 for over six years it was time to move on and it just happened to coincide with COVID. So if he hadn’t decided to move on, I would be out of a job right now — I wouldn’t be working. What we do is work closely with all the artists and their teams, making sure we’re sharing all of their new content and working together to sell tickets to the show and get people there and talking about it.
Joe Golaszewski: Talent buying is weird. You basically are predicting the future of what an artist is going to be, you kind of have to have a good ear. It’s kind of like pointing out that, hey, this artist is kind of trending. Then you help get their sound out, contact agents and work out deals for the artists to come through and play. Then we go into marketing and how we want the show marketed and themed – it’s basically setting up all the concerts and events. As a part of my job, I see about 250 to 300 concerts a year.
Sait Oskay: I’m from California, originally Irvine. I attended CU Boulder and I’ve worked as a security guard and have been bartending for about 14 years. I founded an event service consulting agency – Ridgeback Event Services – which has been as interesting as you might guess, recently.
303: What were things like at The Fox prior to COVID?
JG: In the past couple of years, The Fox was finally reconnecting with the college kids. We were booking what they wanted to hear and they were enjoying it. The last two years were some of our strongest years we’ve ever had at The Fox. We were getting big names like Earthgang, we had Soccer Mommy, we had Chris Lake, Shoreline Mafia. Oh, and I can’t tell you how many local artists. It was really coming back and Boulder was like this good place to play for artists again. Just because we had this really great place to do music.
SO: The Theatre was doing good. I was making solid money, full-time money. I can still remember working my first show at the Fox, Wu-Tang on Halloween. Music is my favorite thing in the world. I wouldn’t be bartending at a restaurant.
303: What has been the toughest thing about the past couple of months? For the Fox Theatre? For you, personally?
CH: You have to think about the whole music industry as a touring ecosystem. If venues in New York and California are closing left and right, how likely is it for artists to want to come to Colorado, you know? So that’s just been really hard to handle. We’ve already lost, I think nearly 10, at least 10, venues. Stages were the first to close, and we’re going to be the last to open, you know, whatever of us are left. And it’s not only losing these venues. It’s everyone that’s a part of it that makes these venues so special. Our staff with production, security, bartenders and then office administration was probably around 100 or more (between The Fox and Boulder Theaters), and right now it’s just me and four other people — it’s really heartbreaking.
303: How have you adjusted to stay afloat during COVID?
CH: Theatre-wise, we have The Fox Theatre Recovery Fund and The Boulder Theater Recovery Fund happening, which is kind of like a Kickstarter (the fundraisers have $30,000 between the theaters, to-date). We wanted to give something to people for their help and support. So we’re getting people the chance to get their name on a Boulder Theater balcony seat if they donate a certain number of dollars or, you know, even a free drink at your next show or some merch depending on the contribution.
Personally, we’ve also dealt with the furloughs, we’ve gone through pay-cuts, which are necessary and I wouldn’t say that for me personally, I’m upset about it. I’m just happy to still have a job and be working. So for me, it’s just being grateful for every single little thing. Because it could always be worse.
JG: We have a really good CEO at The Fox. Her name is Cheryl Liguori and she made some very smart decisions right away when this whole thing went down. It’s kept us above ground. I’ve been reminiscing a lot. But’s crazy because my job really hasn’t stopped too much. The best way to, you know, do this whole thing is to prepare. To have as many shows as we can, touch as many people as we can when we reopen. We’re already looking ahead to next fall.
SO: I was furloughed on March 12th. I’ve been on unemployment and I’ve mostly been working on art commissions. I’ve got a piece at the Fox, a commission of the rapper Phife Dawg, a piece at vision quest and one at the Aggie in Fort Collins.
303: What will live entertainment look like after this? In your opinion will things ever return to normal?
JG: If there’s one positive about the pandemic it’s that people now really realize how much art and live art is needed. You know, as a community, we need it and we don’t have it right now. I think that we will see super high demand, especially for touring artists. We’ve seen that the demand for music is out of control. There are people in hibernation right now ready to pop out and go see 20 shows in a row. And I do think that things will come back to a sense of normalcy, it won’t be right away. I think there’ll be a sliding scale if this vaccine does its thing.
303: What do you miss most about your job?
CH: My job is to tell people to go to concerts – announcing shows that people bought tickets to and drumming up buzz. Right now my job has become canceling shows, postponing shows and refunding tickets. It’s like, the exact opposite of what I was hired to do.
JG: I miss the feeling of a true live show – you can’t recreate it.
303: How can our audience best support The Fox and other industry workers?
CH: Go to saveourstages.com. It takes you right to a form letter where people can contact the representatives and just make sure Congress supports the Save Our Stages act and venues get federal funding. And people can get gift cards for future shows at The Fox, as well as buying merchandise online.
Editor’s Note: The #SaveOur Stages Act Has passed as part of the COVID-19 Relief Bill. This legislature will provide financial assistance to independent venues and promoters across Colorado such as The Fox Theatre and many more. Continue to support by donating to the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund, which helps the venues most at risk of closing in the wait for federal aid to be distributed.
Black Actors’ Guild
The Black Actors’ Guild should be a familiar name for anyone invested in creative expression in Denver. The organization provides a wide-ranging platform for creators of color, sponsoring and self-producing full-length plays as well as sketch comedy, hosting educational theater workshops in schools and generally providing a launchpad for BIPOC stories that may otherwise go untold. What is a performing-arts troupe to do in the general absence of live performance? We asked Executive Director of the Guild, Ryan Foo, multi-hyphenate director, writer, actress and photographer Christina Pittaluga and Co-Operations and Tech Director Miles Holland to find out.
303: Give us some background on you and your work
RF: I’m Executive Co-director of Operations, Lead Producer and a founder. I think it all started when I realized that my friends were all on-stage and they kinda needed that support – behind-stage, before-stage, during-stage, after-stage, and I love it, it’s my life’s calling. Some of us have since passed (co-founders Nick Chavez and Corin Thorne), but Quinn Marchman is one of the other founders who’s still with us. Quinn is an actor – I’ve always been the behind the scenes guy.
Christian Pittaluga: My current title is Director of Creative Content. I was really blessed to meet Ryan and them in high school. We hit it off because they were POC and there wasn’t a lot of representation for POC in the theater major at the time. I now mainly do acting, writing, producing and directing for the Guild. I have my hands in a lot of things when it comes to the company.
MH: I’m the Co-Operations and Technical Director of the Black Actors Guild. I also found out about the company through school — the big homies showed us the ropes. I was doing music production at the time, making beats. It was a good segue into the art and tech world.
303: How was the Guild doing before the matrix glitched?
RF: We’re content creators. We grew out of a space of there not being enough POC creators and rather than going the route of the – let me use the phrase, neoliberal – fight for equality looking like putting people of color in white-written, white-developed structures, we just figured we’d make our own. Before COVID we were doing really well. We helped produce two plays (Jeff Campbell’s Honorable Disorder and Jihad Milhem’s Mosque). There was a lot of teaching going on. We were ready to go to salaries because our education contracts were doing so well. We were doing 3-400% of our previous year this year, just from January through February.
CP: We were in middle and high schools doing speech games, theater games, helping schools produce their own school plays, helping kids learn real-life skills through drama. Designing our own curriculum. The theater was helping kids decompress and I was really bonding with these students.
303: What has been the biggest struggle for you as industry professionals?
RF: We’re teaching artists, not teachers which carries a lot of different things. Unfortunately, one of those things is we fall under the tag of non-essential, so as soon as COVID hit we went from dozens of contracts to zero — with no recourse from schools, no interest from the district in going online. Schools were barebones trying to get by. It’s hard to have 10 years of fucking work deleted in an instant. Our education contracts were giving people a part-time salary, a supplemental income to keep themselves eating. We pride ourselves on paying people well and giving people the freedom to be dope artists. It hurts not to be able to do that.
MH: The education component that Christina talked about was really big. Building up the ability to be in schools was huge for us. And things taking the turn that it did was very hard. I started doing contract work, making comfortable money, but events were shuttered. Concerts were especially hard because music is everything to me.
CP: My personal love languages are quality time and physical touch, so imagine how that’s been for me (laughs). But echoing Miles, creativity is hard when you’re not in person. As a part of the writers’ room, yeah you could hop on Zoom but you don’t get that creative flow that you get in person. Not being able to spend time with my other creators is tough.
303: How is The Guild staying in the black?
RF: We recently did Hypeman. It was a hybrid show, we had a socially distanced audience of about 20 people in the People’s Building space and were running a livestream on Youtube every night. The venue capacity is 250, if you could imagine a 250 person space with 20 people in it? I’m going to gas Miles because he did the audio, the visual, the lights and ran the livestream simultaneously. Pressing the right buttons at the right time, for 18 shows straight.
CH: The year has felt so long I almost forgot that we did this but we launched a WeareDenver network channel (also a Foo-led project) over the pandemic. Having all types of local artists and different types of people submitting work, you got to see new local work, new faces, new content — it was up for 3 months. [Through the channel] were able to give away about $20,000 to artists in need at the beginning of the pandemic, that was awesome.
303: Will things ever return to normal? What do you believe the “new normal” going to look like?
MH: (chuckles) Nope.
RF: You see phrases like the new normal floating around and as people of color, do we really want that? To me, that suggests a return to a status quo that hasn’t been particularly kind to Black and Indigenous POC in particular. In art, I want to see a status quo that looks like more POC not only behind the scenes but on the production and writing side of things for sure. Illusions about accessibility are dissolving too. Livestreams and tech can be a real bridge for people, whether it’s a class bridge, or “differently-abled-ness” bridge for folks who weren’t able to enjoy live entertainment the same way before.
MH: Representation is everything and people are threatened by that. But at the end of the day, you gotta know that when you tell someone your truth they’re going to listen to you. You can’t turn away from the conversation anymore – no matter where you’re looking. And that’s part of the change.
303: How can people support The Black Actors Guild?
RF: We’re not a non-profit because we want our creators to be able to own their content, so we miss out on benefits like Colorado Gives. But, you could check out our Paypal if you believe in what we’re doing. We also have art selling at Coffee at the Point. Christina recently published a photo series – “Are We Still Cool”– and is selling prints.
Chris Golub of Studio Orca
We round out the series with Chris Golub (current alias, Kid Ô – pronounced “kiddo”), founder and director of Studio Orca. The protean DJ is a performer by trade but has largely moved into the music curation business, providing sounds for notable clients Chipotle and Pizzeria Locale. For a creative who’s built his brand providing tunes that make people want to sit, gather and vibe together, we touched on how social distancing has impacted his artistic process.
303: Music curation – niche. How did you get into the business?
Chris Golub: Um, let’s see. I’ve been doing this part of my life for about 11 years. I have like three, I don’t want to really call them disciplines, but three loves that I follow, and one of them is music. The other is fine-arts and the third being food, so I decided early on that I just wanted to just follow what made me happy each day when I woke up, and what was I excited to do each day? Music. And look, shoot, I’m 55 now.
303: How has the pandemic affected Studio Orca? You said that, because of the pandemic, you’ve had to take on more corporate clientele, rather than performing. Does that feel limiting at all?
CG: I mean, not necessarily, but I don’t ever want to get out of touch. I think as a DJ, it’s really important to be in touch, so sometimes you should do things that maybe aren’t your first instinct just to challenge yourself — to stay connected. That’s mainly what I focus on. And it can be done anywhere. As long as I have an internet connection that’s stable and I’m in a really inspiring place, inspiring people, it’s cool, but, you know, the pandemic has really changed a lot of that.
303: What’s the most creative way that you’ve adjusted to the times?
CG: In March, I was going to speak at SXSW and was supposed to be taking a flight out there, and that’s when everything was just starting to get crazy. As it approached that point, I’m like, you know what, I don’t even want to fly, I’m just going to throw everything in my whip and just road-trip down there. By the time I decided, New York City was already announcing a shutdown and maybe that was when the door opened up. There’s an old Bob Marley line that I love so much – “in order to walk through another door, you have to close one and see what you see” — that was a real paradigm shift for me. I just had to turn within and say I’m going to keep pushing and be aware and try to make people’s lives better through what I do, and for right now it’s still finding ways to mix music and put fun stuff together.
To balance out all of the pandemic-talk, we threw in a fun and future-facing question at end of each of the interviews.
303: Who will you be most excited to see in concert post-pandemic – if things like money, location and logistics were no object?
Christian Hee: I was supposed to see Bright Eyes in LA in May, so I’m really hoping that they do another tour. They’re my favorite band of all time and I have not gotten to see them live.
Joe Golaszewski: Yeah so Crumb has been on my mind and all these crazy indie bands. They would be amazing to see in a small club setting.
Sait Oskay: Run Tha Jewels.
Ryan Foo: Russell Brand if he goes on comedy tour – he’s a spiritual dude. That and Burning Man.
Miles Holland: Robert Glasper or Flying Lotus.
Christina Pittaluga: Afropunk — if it’s less white-washed next time.
Chris Golub: I am going to go with Stevie Wonder playing at Smalls Jazz Club in the West Village. Right about now. I could use some uplifting and no other living artist can do it better than Mr. Wonder. And at Smalls? Dead.
We hope that our interviewees will one day be able to make it to their dream shows. It’s only through continued awareness and support that these behind-the-scenes arts-workers will be able to make your favorite live events a reality in the future. Let’s do our part.