AN INTIMATE CROWD gathers for a concert by Craig Baumann and the Story at the Thrasher Opera House. The opera house will be able to host up to 30 people who may not have reliable internet for a virtual game night fund-raiser. Ric Damm photo
by Joe Schulz
For more than the last two decades, a sea of people have gathered at the Thrasher Opera House each fall for the Party for the Arts.
The event, which is the Thrasher’s biggest fund-raiser of the year, typically features a festive theme, ranging from Mardi Gras to Woodstock.
Attendees show up in themed-costumes for drinks, games and socialization, all to benefit the non-profit opera house.
But this summer, the coronavirus pandemic crashed the party. By early August, it became clear that Thrasher couldn’t host an in-person event.
Instead of an in-person party, Thrasher will host a virtual game night Friday, Oct. 16, tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m.
Despite moving online, Thrasher Executive Director Rachael Avery noted it may be the venue’s most important Party for the Arts yet as COVID-19 has forced the opera house to cancel 75% of its shows.
“Not only have the shows been canceled, but Harvest of Bargains, our second biggest fund-raiser — second only to this party — also had to be canceled,” Avery said. “There’s so much riding on this year’s event.”
In good times, the historic opera house educates children about the arts, via the Missoula Children’s Theatre, and acts as an economic driver for the area — especially during the winter months when tourism slows.
“Thrasher tries to support the community as best it can, and right now it really needs the community to support the Thrasher,” Avery said.
After deciding a traditional Party for the Arts was infeasible, Thrasher’s staff began brainstorming alternatives, eventually partnering with Rock the House Entertainment Group for the game night.
A member of the Ripon Channel production crew manages the video switch for the evening’s virtual concert. Ric Damm photo
The event will be hosted via a link that takes attendees to a digital venue that works similarly to a Zoom or Skype video call, allowing attendees to compete with each other in real-time.
A DJ from Rock the House will be the night’s host, introducing short videos before the event describing Thrasher’s role in the community.
After a brief presentation, the games will begin and the DJ will essentially act as a game show host, encouraging contestants and keeping track of scores. Answers will be submitted via Kahoot, a game-based quiz app used in all levels of education throughout the county.
Avery recommends attendees go to an area in their home with good internet access; two fully-charged smart devices, a smartphone for Kahoot and a laptop or larger device for the video call; the links to the Kahoot and video call; and a fun team name.
“We did a few demos with our board members and staff and it was a lot of fun,” Avery said. “We got really into it, even though there were no stakes. I think when we have a bunch of people playing for prizes, it will be even more fun.”
During the event, attendees will compete for prizes by competing in a trivia contest, solving emoji riddles, guessing the names to tunes and finishing the lyrics to songs.
The winners of each contest will receive prizes, including a diamond necklace from Gysbers Jewelry, tickets to the Green Bay Botanical Garden, a front-row seat to a concert and a spot on Thrasher’s Fourth of July parade float next year.
Participants can register for the event individually for $100 or as a team of participants. Cost for team tickets vary, depending on the number of people in a given team. It ranges from $375 for a group of four to $725 for a group of eight.
Each team will receive a gift basket containing party supplies, a bottle of wine, a Thrasher can koozie, snacks, cookies and more. The amount of supplies varies, depending on the number of participants in a team.
Avery believes the virtual event is perfect for families looking for a competitive activity they can do together.
For many of the competitions, she noted having team members in different age groups could create a competitive advantage because the music selections and trivia topics will be pulled from different eras of music and pop culture.
“I think families with kids will want to get their kids involved because there’s some questions that maybe the adults won’t know, but the kids will,” Avery said.
For teams that don’t have a reliable internet connection, she added Thrasher can host up to 30 people on the day of the event.
Beyond the digital party, Thrasher will host an online auction in October to raise money to help keep the opera house afloat, with a bidding deadline of 11:45 p.m the night of the party.
Now more than ever, Avery noted Thrasher needs the community’s support to ensure the venue can survive during the pandemic and thrive afterward.
While the opera house has hosted scaled-down concerts this summer, those events haven’t been able to generate the same revenue as a 200-person concert, and were held mostly to give the community opportunities to see live music.
“It’s important that Thrasher exists during the pandemic because the arts are essential for getting people through hard times,” Avery said. “We see people here after a bad week, and we see people here celebrating a good week; the arts and music are so important in lifting people’s spirits.”
Thrasher plans to continue to host scaled-down concerts, both in-person and virtually for as long as the pandemic lasts.
“When a sense of normalcy returns, the Thrasher is definitely going to be there, ready for everybody to come out and see a concert,” Avery said.