By Emily McCarthy
Stambaugh Auditorium has been a major part of the Mahoning Valley since it opened in 1926. The spacious auditorium has been the venue for public events for decades. This year, due to COVID-19, the auditorium made adjustments to the entertainment experience, like introducing a new app.
H. William “Bill” Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, said the auditorium has been a staple in the area since it opened.
“It was a gift to the area. When Henry H. Stambaugh opened it in the 1920s, he intended for the building to be used for education and entertainment,” he said. “The auditorium has perfect acoustics … the way the sound bounces off the walls reflects the sounds almost perfectly.”
Lawson said while the auditorium hosted many performances open to the Valley over the years, entertainment isn’t the only contribution it makes to the area.
“They have done a lot of weddings and high school graduations. There is a ballroom and a concert hall, which seats over 2,000 people,” he said. “They do a lot with students … like [holding concerts for] the Dana School of Music.”
Jamie Marshall, the marketing and design manager at Stambaugh Auditorium, said the chandeliers in the concert hall are original and were the inspiration for the icon on the venue’s new app. “The Digital Concert Hall” is an app Marshall was directly involved in launching as an alternative to in-person entertainment this year.
Marshall said while the majority of events are virtual, some are hybrid as well. For example, it showed the silent film, “The Phantom of the Opera.” The live-stream featured the film accompanied by live music from organist Todd Wilson.
Due to state mandates, the auditorium’s capacity of 2,500 people is limited to 300 seats. While certain events allow some in-person tickets, most shows have moved to online viewing.
“Most of [the app’s content] is free,” she said. “We are going to be adding some more highlights of past performances that we had. The 100th anniversary of our first board meeting was actually held on Aug. 3. We had something here very small and we made a commemorative video of that.”
Video content is not all that’s available on the app, Marshall said. A variety of podcasts are available as well.
“It works very similar to a podcast app like Apple Podcasts or even Netflix … it’s bringing such an older building into new technology,” she said. “We do different themes. One is performances, so we’ll do, like, a performance preview. We do interviews with people that have performed here or interact in performing arts. We did one actually with a music therapist … it’s our top episode.”
Though the auditorium moved to virtual initiatives before COVID-19, they wanted their content to be accessible to more people.
“We were doing some streaming prior to COVID, but we wanted to make it more accessible,” she said. “It also gives us the opportunity to branch out into a larger audience.”
Marshall said they typically have an older audience that attended their events for years, but the app gives them the ability to draw in a younger audience.
“We basically have to get a younger audience to come in the doors and experience something before they’re hooked,” she said. “So, this was an easier way to literally get into the palms of their hands.”