Bolton St. Synagogue Virtual Gala and Auction
Date: May 2020
Client: Bolton St. Synagogue
Goal: Create a live-streaming virtual gala with enough engagement to make it feel like a shared experience while raising funds for the synagogue’s community funds.
Background: The Bolton St. annual fundraiser gala is a community fundraising event featuring a live concert, auction, great food and drinks and lots of socializing between the guests. This year due to COVID-19, Bolton St. asked us to transform their in-person events into a streaming virtual experience.
Challenges: Producing a virtual event that has previously taken place in-person (especially a gala) presents challenges to ensure the level of engagement doesn’t change just because we move it to the web. Just like physical events, attendee engagement and interactivity are paramount for virtual galas.
In order to elevate the level of engagement, we focused on the connection not only amongst the guests but also between the guests and performers. We included sounds of applause and inserted shots of the live watch party between performances to allow the artists and other guests to experience the group reaction in real-time – just like they would in-person.
Live Entertainment at Home
It was crucial to preserve the novelty of live entertainment, so we designed each aspect of the event with the essence of a physical experience in mind. From the virtual platform to interactive improv performances and a live auction, we provided attendees and performers with a truly engaging, multisensory experience.
Our production team engineered a live-streaming broadcast to showcase each act in realtime during a designated timeslot. We instructed the contributors to sign into the stream so they could perform to the audience live, from home.
Normally, this gala is a catered event. When the synagogue decided to go virtual, they arranged with the caterer to take pre-orders and schedule curbside pickup the afternoon of the event.
Tom Hall of WYPR radio MC’d the gala. He introduced the entertainment, encouraged the audience to visit the online auction, and vitalized the flow of the event. We had 4 musical acts who each performed for about 15 minutes. The acts included the associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony playing cello, a folk duo called the Honey Badgers, a French Guitarist/vocalist playing french songs, and a Klezmer/Jazz artist with his son accompanying him on piano.
Even though they were at home, the audience appreciated the authenticity of live performances.
The Bolton St. Synagogue Gala would not be complete without comedy so they secured the Baltimore Improv Group (B.I.G.) to perform. When you think about a live comedy improv show, audience participation is the heart of the experience. Knowing we would need to incorporate as much audience interaction as possible, we introduced the “Zoom Party Room.”
In the Party Room, two on-screen performers were able to take suggestions and prompts from the crowd as they would at a physical event. This ability to bring a crowd into a virtual event was key to creating a live feel for the audience, and they were thrilled to be part of the show.
The gala is, first and foremost, a fundraising event. Bolton St Synagogue raises some money from ticket sales for the event but they rely heavily on donated auction items that are displayed and bid on at the event. It was important to implement a virtual auction experience that was seamless and easy to use.
The synagog had an existing online auction site where ticket holders could log in and bid on items so it was an easy task to integrate the auction website into our show. We featured different items on the video stream so guests could scroll through items and watch the bidding process while enjoying the concert and participating in the watch party all at the same time.
All of these features: the live video stream, the Zoom party room, the auction site, and event a separate “help desk” for the technically challenged, were designed into the custom webpage for the event.
We were pleased to hear that the feedback from stakeholders and the audience was overwhelmingly positive and that the gala was a great success and a great time for all!