The Craig Baumann & Joe Burbach Duo perform in front of a near empty crowd May 22 at Thrasher Opera House. Thrasher hasn’t been able to fill its 200-seat venue in months due to the coronavirus pandemic. To continue to provide music to the community, the opera house sends out “Feel Good Friday” email blasts containing playlists, live concerts and more. Joe Schulz photo
by Joe Schulz
Typically, the Thrasher Opera House is a vibrant music venue in the heart of Green Lake, offering live concerts to 200-person crowds year-round.
But because of COVID-19, Thrasher hasn’t been able to fill its theater with patrons since early March.
When the venue was forced to cancel its first show, it scrambled to find a way to deliver music to Green Lake digitally.
“We knew we wanted to find some way to still bring music to our patrons,” Thrasher Executive Director Rachael Avery said. “We were already sending e-blasts to let them know about rescheduled shows, but we wanted to also send something to them that was positive and mission-based.”
The opera house developed “Feel Good Friday” email blasts, which sends subscribers music from local musicians and former Thrasher artists each Friday at 8 a.m.
The emails also feature Thrasher trivia, playlists made by Thrasher staff and donors, and a list of virtual live shows each weekend.
“We’re bringing the stage to your living room,” Avery said, adding the venue plans to continue Feel Good Fridays until regular shows can resume.
Each week’s e-blast is different, as every Monday Thrasher staff sit down and map out the content they want to use for the week’s email.
Some of the live music offerings are done at the artist’s homes, while others are performed live from the Thrasher’s stage.
Feel Good Fridays also have featured videos of the opera house’s patrons and board members displaying their musical prowess.
“The arts and music are fundamental in lifting people’s spirits and getting them through the worst of times,” Avery said. “We knew we had to do something to make people feel better and to give them a little bit of hope during these times.”
She noted the response from the community has been extremely positive, as subscribers often reply to the email to say “Thanks.”
“One person said it’s the only blasts that they read from top to bottom,” Avery said.
Thrasher is in the early stages of planning pop-up concerts for this summer. Avery noted pop-up shows will be limited to 50 attendees as per recommendations of the Green Lake County Health Department.
The venue hasn’t had any revenue coming in since March because it hasn’t been able to host in-person concerts.
Even without the income from hosting live shows, Avery noted Thrasher is doing “OK” financially because it doesn’t have outstanding debt, and it’s always had a fiscally conservative approach to booking talent.
She added support from donors has been instrumental in helping the non-profit opera house “withstand a small stretch of being dark.”
“As these weeks turn into months, even the most prepared organization needs to ask for support,” Avery said. “We are thankful for the folks who’ve held onto their tickets for rescheduled dates and to the few who’ve donated while we are dark — these gifts are helping us stay afloat right now.”
Because the venue has seen its revenue drop, the artists featured in Feel Good Fridays have volunteered to perform for free.
One of those artists is blues musician Craig Baumann, who performed live May 22 from Thrasher.
He heard about Feel Good Fridays through his friend — and fellow musician — Jason Menting, who is married to Thrasher Development Director Katie Menting.
The Craig Baumann & Joe Burbach Duo performed live May 22 at the Thrasher Opera House as part of the venue’s “Feel Good Friday.” Burbach, left, vocalizes and plays keys, while Baumann vocalizes and plays guitar. Joe Schulz photo
Baumann’s e-blast performance wasn’t the first virtual concert he’s played, but it is the first time he’s left the house for a digital gig.
“I think people still need to interact with art as a way to disappear from reality for a little while,” Baumann said.
While art can serve as a distraction, he added there’s no way to produce art during a pandemic that isn’t somehow shaped by the crisis.
“Even if we’re playing the same songs that we were before [COVID-19], we’re doing them differently to reflect what’s going on in the world right now,” Baumann said.
Aside from booking virtual concerts, Thrasher is doing its best to carry on community traditions.
One such tradition is hosting Green Lake School choir concerts, which was carried on this year via Feel Good Fridays.
The May 22 e-blast contained a link to the Green Lake middle and high school choirs’ virtual spring concert, which was live-streamed on YouTube.
“We wanted to collaborate and connect with the Thrasher, and we wanted the students to feel a connection with that venue,” choir teacher Virginia Pollock said.
The concert enabled students to share the work they had done remotely for six weeks. They were assigned to create a piece of creative content using a digital tool.
Projects included comedic tutorials, poetry, music videos, digital audio compositions and recorded acoustic performances.
The result has been “one of the most rewarding projects” Pollock has ever been a part of.
“When we’re working in the class, I can see them improve in slow increments day by day, but for this project, we checked in once a week,” Pollock said. “It would just blow my mind because I didn’t see the slow steps; I saw these big leaps.”
Though the Thrasher can’t fill its 200-seat theater to capacity, Avery noted the venue is doing everything it can to bring the community together through the arts.
“Feel Good Friday is a way for us to be here for our community,” Avery said. “These are different times, and so we’ve had to adapt. The minute we couldn’t have a show where folks could come to us, we thought, ‘Why don’t we bring the show to them?’”
Thrasher is selling tickets for its upcoming season. Anyone interested in buying tickets or donating can call 920-294-4279 or visit www.thrasheroperahouse.com.