Applause is a silent partner of sorts at Oak Park and River Forest High School, behind the scenes funding guest artist visits and equipment like musical instruments and holding fundraisers so students have money to pay for performing arts expenses from lessons to trips.
While the nonprofit Applause is serving more students than ever, significantly less money is coming in during the pandemic.
Each fall, an early performance in the school year is Huskie Music Fest. It includes all the band, choirs, orchestras, and other groups such as Show Choir and Jazz bands. Applause hosts the event and this is their biggest fundraiser. Not only does the group bring in money from ticket sales, it sells sponsorships before and during the event. An Applause sponsorship includes free tickets as well as a listing in future concert programs.
In 2019, Applause made just over $2,300 in Huskie Music Fest ticket sales. But the bigger aspect, said Lesa Kiefer, Applause president, is the sponsorships. That year, 79 sponsorships were purchased, some on the way out after the concert because families were “so impressed by the music program,” for a total of almost $7,300.
In 2020 there was no Huskie Music Fest due to COVID-19. “This year we’re only at half of that; we’re only at 40 sponsorships, for about $3,800,” she said.
That’s $5,800 less than the previous year — more than half of their annual income according to Kiefer. And, Applause started serving more students at OPRF last school year.
“We made the attempt to bring in and involve more groups,” Kiefer said. This included Spoken Word Club and Shakespeare Club. “We’ve been trying to expand the number of kids we assist so our budget actually increased some … so we have more kids, but we have less funds.”
When planning began in the music department for the Prisms of Winter concert, it became clear that outside video editing was needed to compile the 400 plus student recordings to create the virtual concert. According to Kiefer, re-allocating funds became one way to pay the $8,400 price tag, both on the part of the music department as well as Applause.
“The teachers sent out really terrific emails saying, ‘without Applause there wouldn’t have been a Prisms,’ because the school didn’t have any money at that time to offset the cost of Prisms,” Kiefer said. “The music department, out if its own budget, paid $4,000. We paid the balance, about $4,400.”
Some of the Applause money that had been budgeted in 2020/2021 for buying equipment, having guest artists and supporting a regular marching band season was shifted to pay for Prisms. An example of an equipment purchase is a Sousaphone bought in 2019 for the Marching Band. Equipment purchase requests are not coming into Applause this school year, Kiefer said.
A similar situation has arisen with the theater department for the virtual spring musical. While Applause had budgeted for guest artist visits, that is being re-allocated, with approval, so funds can be put toward the costs of the virtual version of the musical Working (2012 Version). The show includes approximately 70 students in cast, crew, orchestra and production staff.
The musical itself is primarily being funded by the OPRFHS Alumni Association, which stepped in and gave $9,000 to the theater department to produce Working. The show, streaming in mid-April, will be prerecorded. The donation covers video editing and audio engineering.
Other performing arts groups are benefitting from visiting artists funded by Applause this school year. Harmony, a gospel choir group, worked with Kendall Nesbitt, an award-winning gospel artist for eight weeks. Jazz Combo students are working with a guest combo and Spoken Word Club met with a poet. Theater design and senior Shakespeare class students along with Shakespeare Slam Team received a virtual presentation and tour with Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, something few schools in the world are able to do, according to Kiefer.
With budgeting for 2021/2022 looming – Applause’s fiscal year starts July 1 – Kiefer said the loss of income this year may have an impact on next year’s programming and purchases. She said there are reserves, which they may use, but expects they will have serious discussions with each performing arts group and Applause may have to spread small cuts to each area.
“We’re definitely being stretched in a way that makes me a little sad, because these kids are already missing out on something,” Kiefer said. “I’m hoping when they go to school next year, we can make it as normal as possible, and I hate to have to think about not being able to give the full support we have in the past and that the negative effect of COVID will continue.”
To make matters worse, two of the groups Applause supports, theater and marching band, also have less in their own accounts because their fundraising dollars are down. Theater makes money from concessions during in-person shows and marching band from a Farmers Market bake sale, a car wash and bowling event. With these off the table in 2020, and into 2021, their need for support from Applause will likely increase according to Kiefer.
And, if there is not an in-person Huskie Music Fest this fall due to the pandemic, that could further hurt Applause’s financial situation right at the time they need to rebuild their finances.
“If that happens again and we go through a whole other cycle where we’ve lost half of our income a second year in a row, down the line is going to have devastating consequences,” Kiefer said.
When Applause appealed to the crowd that tuned into the online Prisms of Winter concert in December with a preshow PowerPoint on all the group does, only five people bought sponsorships. They had hoped for much more; in person concert tickets were $10 per person and the virtual concert was free. The group is now attempting to raise funds through local dining opportunities during the next three months.
Applause is a nonprofit, primarily made up of parents who have students in the performing arts at OPRF. It has been around for 52 years, founded as the Concert Tour Association to hold fundraisers to help student musicians pay for travel. It still holds regular fundraisers, with 95 to 98 percent of profits going into individual student accounts for use on performing arts expenses. Student fundraisers include the winter citrus sale and spring flower sale. Need-based scholarships are also available to students for things like marching band camp and travel related to the performing arts. Each year, one $1,000 college scholarship is awarded to a senior planning to major or minor in the performing arts. The group holds an annual meeting about pursuing the performing arts in college. They have also advocated for the arts. The group lobbied and succeeded to have music classes counted in 10th through 12th grade students’ GPAs starting with the Class of 2015.
More on Applause or to become a sponsor, $25 and up: applauseoprf.org/about. Also, dine on the rooftop, order take out or delivery at One Lake Brewing Wednesday Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 21 and mention Applause and 10% will go to the nonprofit.