Oriental Theater Launches a Fundraiser to Survive the Shutdown

When the state’s music venues were shut down to slow the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of March, the Oriental Theater was in pretty good financial shape. Initially, Oriental general manager and partner Scott Happel figured the venue could wait it out for a few months until it could host concerts again.

“But as it continues on, I'm thinking, ‘Well, I don't think we'll have a show this summer, and I'm not sure we'll have a show this fall,'” Happel says. “Now it's becoming a little more like, you know what...maybe we do some sort of fundraiser thing.”

Happel didn’t want to run a GoFundMe campaign like other venues have. While producing the burlesque show Carnivale De Sensuale at the Oriental a few times a year, Happel became familiar with the London-based subscription content service OnlyFans through people in his social media feed, some of whom had raised money for themselves after losing their jobs.

While OnlyFans is popular in the adult entertainment industry and with fitness experts, Happel figured the service could also be used to help out the Oriental. Starting, Monday, June 1, the venue will launch a subscription-based twelve-week campaign that includes private video content by musicians and artists, among them Nathen Maxwell (Flogging Molly / The Bunny Gang), Trever Keith (Face to Face), Mary Lou Lord, Cattle Decapitation, Mark Mallman, Itchy-O, the Yawpers, Reno Divorce and Eldrene. There will also be standup comedians and a wrestling match from Lucha Libre and Laughs.

“We really want to have it be representative of what our calendar looks like over the year,” Happel says.

Since there are a lot of unknowns regarding when and how music venues will eventually start to open again, Happel thinks this fundraiser's unique content will help the venue raise enough money to survive until it can book shows.

Happel says subscriptions will be $20 a month or $50 for the three-month period. If people really love a particular video, subscribers can also tip as they’re watching content.

While the fundraiser could help get the Oriental through the next few months, it will also help when the venue can finally open again...but likely at a reduced capacity.

“Obviously, they're not going to allow standing room only anytime soon,” Happel says. “We laid everything out and figured out how many people we could sit while following strong social distancing rules, which ended up being about 100 people, which is about 15 percent of our normal capacity.”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon