Exterior view of EJ Thomas Hall at The University of Akron, with downtown in the distance.

Northeast Ohio Living Room Talent Show aims to bring people together in a fun and innovative way

by Allyson Smith

If this were a normal spring, summer concert and festival season would be right around the corner. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many shows and tours are postponed or even cancelled through late summer. 

While many of the parts that make everyday life enjoyable are not available, folks over at E.J. Thomas Hall brainstormed what they could to help. 

Keli Schimelpfenig, manager of marketing at E.J. Thomas Hall, says the staff came up with the idea of a Northeast Ohio Living Room Talent Show, where people across the region can send in videos of their performances to share with others and possibly win some prizes. 

“This idea started to snowball when I watched a virtual St. Patrick’s Day Parade hosted by an actor friend. It was hilarious — the family dog was jumping around while he narrated a living room parade presented by his family. Each family member marched by playing musical instruments or acting like a parade float or distinguished guest,” Keli says.

After watching that, she said she wanted to find a way to “extend that spirit of family play to the entire region,” as well as connect with patrons, the University of Akron community, the Akron Symphony Orchestra, and Tuesday Musical Association.

How to enter

People who want to share their special skills can enter the talent show in two different ways. 

  • They can send a video from 15-seconds to 3-minutes to E.J. Thomas via Facebook Messenger.
  • They can post the video and add the tag #EJtalent so it can be searched.

The categories are Family Fun, Performing Artists, Dad Jokes/Comedy, Unusual Skills or Talents, Kids and Pets, and Hairbrush Lip-Sync/Air Guitar.

“The goal was to make this accessible to everyone, not just skilled artists. Really, anything goes!” Keli says.

All entries should be family-friendly.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, April 24 at 11:59 pm. 

Performers can win prizes, including ticket and parking packages for upcoming events at E.J. Thomas Hall, swag bags, Broadway show merchandise, a professional photo shoot on the stage of E.J. Thomas and more.

Performances will be judged based on factors like fun creativity, spirit and innovations. The panel of judges will be announced on EJ Thomas Hall’s social media accounts.

Category and Grand Prize Winners will be selected and announced on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on April 30.

For those who want to simply watch instead of participate or performers who want to see what they’re up against, some of the videos are being posted on the organization’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Videos posted with #EJtalent can be publicly searched.

Keli says this could possibly become a yearly event.

“We have been looking at new ways to keep the spirit of performance alive and accessible year-round… This really lets us get to know our patrons in a new and fun way,” she says.

She also says that events like these are important during times of crisis like this because it gives us a sense of community, even though we are isolated from one another.

“I think what we are all craving right now is a sense of community spirit and ways to be connected. Events like this are kind of simple and old-fashioned, if you really think about it. The only difference is that instead of gathering at the high school gym, you are performing for your mom holding the camera phone because she is a little camera-shy and doesn’t want to be in the video,” she says.

The performing arts hall is also exploring other ways they can use social media to benefit the community, such as sharing selections from student recitals and behind-the-scenes stories. 

“I think all of us working at arts organizations feel a great sense of stewardship towards our audiences. Our audience is what makes our space feel complete. We want to stay connected and as we say in our box office quite a bit now, as our events are being rescheduled for later this year, ‘We’re saving you a seat.’”

Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and taking months to read a single book.

Photo: Graphic used with permission from E.J. Thomas Hall; cover by Shane Wynn