By Carol Vaughn —
2020 has changed our lives in so many ways.
How we enjoy the arts is one.
The Chincoteague Island Arts Organization (CIAO) is among arts organizations whose members are adapting — finding new ways to bring performances to audiences, while holding out hope we all can return to “normal” someday soon.
When Chincoteague, along with the rest of Virginia and beyond, shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, popular musical trio The Three Sheets was gearing up for its annual St. Patrick’s Day performance at the Island Theatre, which CIAO owns and has been working to restore for the past decade.
The island shut down the day before the concert was to happen — the beginning of a long dry spell for live performances.
The three musicians, Owen Hooks, Thom Nolan, and Bill Troxler, recently got together at the theater for a filming of the performance we all missed in March.
Since it has been six months since then, think of it as a “halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” concert.
The concert will air online starting Monday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. Go to CIAO’s Facebook page or YouTube to see it.
The performance is the fourth free virtual event offered by CIAO during the pandemic.
“It keeps us occupied, let’s people know we are still here,” said Bill Borges, chairman of CIAO’s board of directors.
The audiences are growing with each virtual event, he said.
“We have learned how to do this. We are still learning,” he said of the switch from live performances to video.
Borges said the group likely will keep offering this new method of delivering performances to its audience, even after the theater opens again for in-person events.
Happily, a video technology expert with three decades of experience in the New York City off-Broadway theater scene recently moved to Chincoteague — just in time for CIAO to benefit from his expertise as coronavirus sent performances virtual.
Doug Mills was manning an array of equipment during the filming of the concert, which took place Friday, Sept. 11 in the near-empty theater.
“This is basically what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years, so I wanted to continue doing it,” Mills said.
His theater work included sound, lighting, video — “basically all of it.”
“I’ve been involved in entertainment since probably 1990. The first show I worked, I was about 12 — that was The Who’s final tour in Philly,” Mills said.
“There have been some fun shows that I’ve done,” he said.
Perhaps the most memorable show he worked on was “Be More Chill,” which premiered off-Broadway in 2018, he said.
He also spent five years doing the Actors Studio Drama School repertory season.
After checking out the Chincoteague theater’s sound and lighting systems — and realizing most of the equipment, donated by the Kennedy Center years ago, dated to the early 1980s — “The first thing I did was rebuild the sound system,” he said.
The musicians eased into their performance as Mills checked that all things technical were in order.
The three have been performing Celtic, nautical, and original music together, with a dash of humor thrown in, for more than a decade. They typically do around 40 shows a year, Troxler said.
While this performance has an Irish theme, The Three Sheets also is known for original compositions by Troxler, typically referencing Chincoteague and Eastern Shore history.
Original songs they perform include one about the Marine Electric sinking; “The Killick Shoal Light,” about the first Black lighthouse keeper in the area; “The Hattie Dunn,” about a WWI shipwreck off Assateague; and a new song, “The Fields of Corbin Hall,” about a Civil War battle.
The group often performs those songs for Road Scholar groups visiting Chincoteague — except for this year.
“We miss it. We are eager to get back,” Troxler said.
“It helps the visitors understand there is more depth to us than the oysters and clams that they eat. It’s a real culture and real history and real people who did things here. It’s not all headlines, but it’s all very important and interesting,” he said.
Although it seemed a bit strange to play without a live audience, the three were happy to be playing together again as Mills captured the performance to edit and air online.
Hooks played guitar, while Nolan played the bodhran, an Irish drum, and other percussion instruments, depending on the song.
Troxler played various ones of the five banjos he brought to the set — he has more at home.
They played eight tunes in all for the taping.
The performance includes Celtic tunes ranging from boisterous drinking songs to danceable reels to plaintive ballads, with a bit of background told for each.
One of the most touching is “Isle of Hopes, Isle of Tears,” a Celtic Woman song about the immigrant experience at Ellis Island.
While the musicians hope to be performing live by next St. Patrick’s Day, in the meantime this virtual concert is a gift to music lovers.
Although the Island Theatre is closed, CIAO members have been working on many improvements to be ready to welcome audiences back when it is safe to do so. When people come back through the theater doors, they may notice those doors have been stripped of several coats of paint and restored to the original wood, thanks to CIAO board members Ernie and Cheryl Smith.
Support CIAO with a donation using either the FaceBook page
or the website, chincoteagueislandarts.com or by mail.
CIAO’s mailing address is: PO Box 1217, Chincoteague, VA 23336.