by PETER DORFMAN
In January 2020, when Jonah Crismore was interviewing for the position of executive director of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (BCT), the dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis were only dimly visible. “There were rumblings that things might get bad, but it wasn’t until February, when I accepted the job, that it became apparent how bad the pandemic would be,” Crismore says.
Undaunted, he brought his wife, Amanda, to Bloomington from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “We really wanted to be here,” he says, “and we knew how supportive the community was toward the theater. We’d been going to shows at the BCT since the early 2000s. I couldn’t pass up being part of its story.”
Crismore started the position on March 16, three days after Indiana’s pandemic shutdown was enacted. The theater had just canceled an appearance by the rock band Guster. Crismore’s first month consisted of talking through postponements and cancellations with managers and agents and speculating on how long the crisis would last.
“We basically wiped the calendar clean,” Crismore relates. “Some of our shows have been rescheduled two or three times.”
The BCT did host film screenings—a Hitchcock double feature for Halloween, for example—during the period when it could legally have 100 people in the audience. And there have been virtual concert events to benefit the theater. Bloomington-based singer Carrie Newcomer performed in July, and the New Albany-based band Houndmouth played in October, both in the empty theater performing for virtual audiences.
“That’s our world for now,” Crismore says. “We won’t have any live events until the latest restrictions are lifted.”
It’s been tough on the event staff, Crismore allows. But virtual events do require camera people. And it’s allowed the BCT to develop a virtual ticketing process that could allow people to attend future sold- out events online.
A Fort Wayne native, Crismore, 39, held a series of arts-related positions there, including as executive director of the Cinema Center, a film arts organization comparable to the Indiana University Cinema. Before that, he served as an administrator at the Embassy Theater, a venue for touring theater companies. His wife is a web developer who designed much of the website for Fort Wayne’s public library.
“We’re hikers,” he says. “We take long walks with the dog. That helps us cope until the arts scene comes back to life.”