By Jamie Marshall
Marketing & Design Manager, Stambaugh Auditorium
YOUNGSTOWN – On the morning of March 12, 2020, road cases, lighting and audio equipment were loaded into Stambaugh Auditorium and setup began on the concert hall stage for that evening’s concert by the Newsboys.
The administrative, box office, food and beverage, and production staff were hard at work preparing for the 7 p.m. performance.
But it never happened.
That afternoon, Gov. Mike DeWine announced an immediate mandate banning mass gatherings of 100 people or more to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.
The Stambaugh staff had to stop, take a breath, adjust, and move in a new direction. Ticket holders had to be notified, arrangements needed to be made, and the completed stage set needed to be torn down and loaded out of the building.
The year was on track to be one of Stambaugh Auditorium’s most successful. The staff was about 45 days into what would have been a run of 105 events in 120 days.
Suddenly, difficult decisions had to be made to preserve the organization. Half of the full-time staff was let go, as was nearly all of the part-time staff.
The operating budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 was reduced by 65%. For several months, the building was almost completely shut down. The number of canceled or postponed events grew daily, as did the amount of lost income.
Staff meetings took place via Zoom. Soon, the technology was also being used to give virtual tours of Stambaugh to brides and grooms who were planning their weddings.
By June, it was high school commencement season. Stambaugh was able to produce seven virtual commencements and provide graduating seniors the opportunity to walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
The success of the virtual commencements led to the addition of more virtual events – 24 in all.
Digital content was being created and it needed a place to call home, somewhere easily accessible to the community. The Digital Concert Hall app, available to download on smart devices, was launched in October.
Philanthropic support from the community in the form of COVID-19 relief funding, grants from foundations and donations from individuals helped to sustain the historic auditorium through these difficult times. The preservation and success of the performing arts in Youngstown drove the determination of the staff.
As the year came to a close, the Henry H. Stambaugh Auditorium Association entered into an agreement with the Youngstown Symphony Society to assume management responsibilities for the DeYor Performing Arts Center. The goal of the management agreement is to preserve and best use both performing arts venues.
The administration and staff of Stambaugh Auditorium intend to apply their experience to both organizations to secure a bright future of growth.