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Arts and Entertainment

Springfield Regional Arts Council Celebrates Past Ozzie Award Winners Online

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Tonya Forbes
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Leslie Forrester, Executive Director of Springfield Regional Arts Council, joined us on “Arts News” this morning to talk about a special streaming video the Arts Council will debut this Sunday evening on YouTube and Facebook, free and open to the public.   

For 35 years, since John Q. Hammons won the first award in 1985, the Springfield Regional Arts Council has recognized our region's creative pioneers with the Ozzie Award. But to ensure the health and safety of all, the Arts Council will celebrate the Ozzies virtually with a 40-minute video, the “Ozzie Restrospective,” online Sunday November 8 at 6:30pm. Normally the Ozzie celebration is held in October at a gala at Springfield Airport.  Needless to say, COVID-19 and social distancing necessitated some big changes.

“It's brand new,” said Leslie Forrester. “Just like everybody else, we're reinventing how we normally do things. And we'd certainly much rather have a big party with all of our friends and people who love the arts. But it's more important to us to keep people safe and to make sure that we're all able to be there next year--in theory!--when we're able to do this again and do it safely.” 

Forrester explained how the “retrospective” idea came about. “Since we have that 30-years-plus of Ozzie Award winners, I counted it the other day. It's something like 115 people and organizations that we've celebrated for the last 30 years. So we thought, what better year than this one to take a step back, refocus, and visit with all of those incredible people who have made the arts what they are today. And so we have about 16 different people and stories that we're going to be telling in that and that evening.” 

[Full disclosure: I won the Individual Ozzie back in 2007, and I was one of the 16 folks interviewed for this video.]

Leslie Forrester conducted conversations—interviews, really—with past Ozzie winners, about their involvement in the arts, and more importantly, about why the arts matter now more than ever, and if they are still relevant.  “And of course, the answer is yes. Absolutely,” said Forrester.

This year the Arts Council did not name new Ozzie recipients because of the extraordinary nature of the pandemic situation we continue to undergo. “This year we decided not to award a new set (of Ozzies) because we felt like we don't want to shortchange anybody. And since we can't have the big party, the big celebration and performances at the dinner, we felt like we wanted to put a pause (on it for this year).”

Ordinarily, Ozzie recipients for the year would have already been announced.  But that’s NOT the way they used to do it.  Up to about 2008 or so, Ozzie winners were kept secret until the night of the award ceremony. I have to admit, I probably had something to do with the ending of that practice—my wife, colleagues and friends had an extraordinarily difficult time keeping the news from me in 2007.  They managed to do so… but it was a fight just to ensure that I would be present at the ceremony that year! The late Bucky Bowman had nominated me for the Individual Ozzie, and he told my wife Tammy she had to keep it a secret from me. “I can’t keep secrets from my husband!” she protested.  “You will FIND a way,” Bucky thundered (as only he could).

That’s one of the stories I related when Leslie Forrester interviewed me for the Ozzie Retrospective. “There are so many incredible stories,” she said. “We talk to you. We talk to Randy Russell, previously with the school district and Community Foundation, and now Any Given Child. Dr. Carl Pice, who is a surgeon at Cox Health, but he's also a philanthropist in the arts and an art collector. Yolanda Lorge, Tom Feeney, Rob and Sally Baird, Lou Schaefer and Dr. Bob Bradley. And they do, they all have such incredible stories. And in the world right now, we need some sense of hope and inspiration and refocusing on something other than COVID and the pandemic, the election and everything else that's going on.”

Conducting interviews with living Ozzie winners brought home with some poignancy the fact that many former recipients are no longer with us: Bucky Bowman; Mick Denniston, longtime Executive Director of Springfield Little Theatre; Chuck Facer, longtime conductor of Springfield Mid-America Singers, and many more. Forrester said they interviewed a group from Little Theatre including Beth Domann, Tanya Forbes and Chuck Rogers. “Previous winners have been hugely impactful over at the theater, like Virgil Anderson and Donna Crosby.” The Arts Council thought it essential, Forrester said, to interview “those still with us, but remembering those who aren't, and what those contributions were, and hearing from the people that worked with them. You know, the stories get lost, and we didn't want to do that. So I hope that this is sort of a start of a future thing where we can continue to collect the stories and remember what it took to have what we have today and some of the silly things that have gone on, and those wonderful memories that will still have an inspiration for what's to come.”

Given that each interview ran upwards of half an hour, the final produced video was edited down to a total of 40 minutes. Jim Bultas of Plotline Films shot the original videos and “he edited it beautifully,” according to Lesie Forrester. In fact, Bulta wrote the background music that will be heard in the video.  “So it'll be a really great show.”

The “Ozzie Retrospective” debuts at 6:30pm Sunday November 8 on both YouTube and Facebook.  You can go to https://www.springfieldarts.org/ozzieawards to find a link to click on to take you to the video stream Sunday evening.  Following the initial broadcast the video will continue to be available for some time.

While there’s no admission charge to watch the video, Leslie Forrester encourages everyone to “make a donation” to the Arts Council or to your favorite local arts organization. “We love them all, and they are in critical need right now.” She estimated the revenue loss suffered by our local arts organizations during the pandemic has so far totaled about 1.1 million dollars—but she expects that to increase substantially as the pandemic—and the limits on in-person gatherings—continue into 2021.  “We're expecting by the spring that'll be closer to two and a half million dollars.”

Even so, we’re actually in better shape here in Springfield, Missouri than the arts industry in New York City, where Broadway shows, the Metropolitan Opera, and other arts producers have completely shut down what would have been their current seasons.  Here, Little Theatre, the Springfield Symphony, and Springfield Regional Opera, among other groups, have managed to present live performances for live audiences—albeit audiences much reduced in size due to social-distancing guidelines. As Forrester reminded me, Springfield Ballet will add their company to the list with their upcoming “Nutcracker” production. “It’s already a challenge to mount a performance of ANY kind of work,” she said. And trying to produce musical or theatrical performances while keeping the performances socially distant, not to mention the audience members, is a huge hurdle to overcome… not to mention that limited seating capacity means greatly reduced revenues.  

And it’s not just the local production companies that are suffering.  The Gillioz Theatre, which has been a major venue for nationally touring musicians and stand-up comics for a number of years, has reverted to showing theatrical films once a week just to keep the doors open. “And that’s a really good point,” said Leslie Forrester. “It's not just the organizations, it's all the venues that we've grown to love”—and perhaps, to take for granted.  Thankfully, she added, “audiences have been so incredibly supportive in working with organizations to figure out how to do it and to do it safely and to return (to public performance). And of course, there's plenty of audience members that just can't be with us. And, you know, we want them to be safe. And that's why a lot of (arts organizations) are working on streaming. Every single one of those organizations you mentioned are able to stream some of (their offerings).” Sometimes music and play publishers don’t allow video streaming, “but where they can they do it, they've done it really, really well. We've all had to adapt.”

One way that you can celebrate the arts is by watching the Springfield Regional Arts Council’s Ozzie Retrospective, starting Sunday evening November 8 at 6:30pm online, free and open to the public. And if you can’t watch the stream Sunday night, it will continue to be available.  Again, visit https://www.springfieldarts.org/ozzieawards to find the link to the video stream.