Before the coronavirus pandemic caused a global performing arts lockdown, Justin Hornback was working as Box office manager at the Hardin Country Schools Performing Arts Center in Kentucky. With the theatre doors still closed, I talked to Justin about how he has been handling the lockdown and how the center has been adapting in these challenging times.
Firstly, can you tell us how you got into working in theatre?
I lucked out! I had been working in the hotel industry for about seven years and decided to go back to college. I took a small job as a teacher’s assistant in an elementary classroom. Then the Box Office Manager position opened at the theatre I had performed in during high school, I applied and got it.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your place of work?
We are owned by a school district but operated separately. However, since we do provide performances for the school district and surrounding educational area, all of our spring performances were either postponed or cancelled. We lost our tour of a children’s theatre out of Montana that reaches hundreds of kids each time they come to our theatre. At first there was a lot of “picking up the pieces,” but then we decided to stream two of our performances on Facebook. Since then, we’ve been keeping a presence on social media and planning for the future of our shows. Looks like it’s going to be a lot of streaming content!
Can I ask how you have been handling the lockdown period, being unable to work?
I am in an extremely fortunate position that I am still working. While our performances have stopped, planning for the future of our season and researching available streaming services has become the “new norm” for me.
What are your hopes for the future of the theatre where you work?
I hope that we will have in-person performances by December and that we can kick it off with a bang with our production of The Nutcracker. Before then, I’m looking forward to trying new things with live and pre-recorded performances that we are trying to line up as part of our offerings. I also believe this change in technology for us will allow for more streaming content to classrooms and expanding our ability to educate students in theatre.
What are your hopes for the future of the theatre industry as a whole?
The arts are important. My hope is that the theatre industry will come out stronger than ever. When we can gather again, I believe the theatre will really thrive. Being able to stream performances is good for the time being, but does it really replace that feeling of being in the theatre? Seeing the lighting, hearing the orchestra warm up and reacting with the crowd around you is powerful.
Do you have a favourite show that you have worked on?
I would say one of the more challenging but rewarding shows that I worked on was The Little Mermaid. And that’s because we used puppets. I was cast as Scuttle and the puppet came to life with me and another cast member. He was my right hand man. Literally. I saw a video of us in a scene and realized he was reacting with the right wing exactly how I imagined it in my head. It wasn’t choreographed, it just naturally happened. To me, that was magic.
If you could work on any show, of any genre, what show would it be and why?
Right now I’d say, Something Rotten! I loved that show. I think it’s clever, the songs are great and it’s hilarious. I’m a sucker for comedy.
Do you feel that the arts industry has been badly treated in regard to the pandemic, with ongoing shutdowns and a lack of support?
I think here in the US, it ranges depending where you are. In New York, actors, crew, producers, staff and more are out of work until 2021. Meanwhile in Indiana, there is a dinner theatre performing socially distanced shows. Some children’s theatre’s are holding workshops online or in person (distanced, of course). Government support is lacking but local support isn’t. Those who love the arts see the need and are helping out any way that they can. That’s uplifting.
Has there been any shows being made available to watch online in the states, like there has here in the UK?
There are more available to watch online now than in April. It changes nearly every week. Just this week another ticketing program has rolled out their beta for streaming events. I believe these will be around to stay and will become an integral part of our theatres here in the states going forward.
If you could go back in time and watch any show from the past, what show would it be and why?
I’d go back to the 1950s and see My Fair Lady with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison on Broadway. Julie Andrews is amazing. Rex Harrison was great. The show is fun. Technologically speaking, no microphones, getting your voice over an orchestra pit, all of those things would be great to experience. You’d come away with a better appreciation of what we have now but also what incredible work went into shows years ago.
I would like to thank Justin for his time and his answers to this interview, as well as wish him the very best for the future. Stay safe x