As the economy wavers and shopping habits shift from brick and mortar stores to online, malls across the country are looking for new and innovative ways to draw people back in, particularly during the holidays.
The Mall at Steamtown (300 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton) has been doing just that with the help of musician Doug Smith and Damian the Magician, though the co-organizers of the free weekly events have been working with the downtown shopping center for years.
‚??When this mall opened 20 years ago, I was the opening act. I was the first act on that stage,‚?Ě Damian said as he pointed to the mall‚??s permanent, built-in center stage on Nov. 8. ‚??We‚??ve done everything from close-up magic to stage shows.‚?Ě
‚??In recent years, they‚??ve really expanded their participation with First Night Scranton (on New Year‚??s Eve), so we had the idea last year to occasionally have some live music or entertainment at the mall to promote First Night. They‚??ve done it other holiday seasons, but this went on every month or so, so it kind of grew out of that recently,‚?Ě Smith added.
‚??You‚??re just putting your art right in the middle of where all the people are instead of expecting the people to come to your art. In that way, it‚??s really fun for me because you get little kids reacting to it and people that maybe never would have listened otherwise.‚?Ě
The mall now hosts live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a karaoke night on Wednesdays; magic and children‚??s entertainment is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, presenting a unique challenge to the performers.
‚??You‚??ve got to draw the audience. It‚??s not an audience that‚??s stationary. ‚?ĽYou do that with stage personality and you do that with music to draw people in. On a day like this, you just do it with your showmanship. You have to draw them in and they have to trust you,‚?Ě Damian explained.
‚??It also relies heavily on the personality of the entertainer. Can he connect with the people who are watching, and can they, within a matter of seconds, find that person trustworthy enough to give them that time?‚?Ě
Sporting a black suit and gold name badge, the magician builds that trust by using his audience‚??s own property ‚?? money, jewelry, etc. ‚?? in his illusions, demonstrating his talent as he speaks by busting a hole through a dollar bill with a marker and then easily repairing it again as if nothing had ever happened.
‚??It brings them in and they shop a little bit. Also, if they don‚??t know there‚??s entertainment, it makes their experience a little bit more enjoyable because it‚??s live, interactive entertainment,‚?Ě he noted.
For Smith, it‚??s about reaching an audience who would normally never hear his jazz music, and acoustically, it‚??s pleasing to the longtime bassist and educator‚??s ears.
‚??There‚??s all kind of reactions. One of my favorites is the little tiny kids who have probably never heard any live music, and they‚??re just transfixed. ‚?ĽYou‚??ll get kids who are in high school that are musicians that are very interested. Sometimes they‚??ll come up and talk to us about the instruments,‚?Ě Smith related.
‚??It‚??s turning the mall into a public space. In the olden days, people would go out to the square or the open market or whatever and there would be people performing occasionally, but for better or for worse, malls have turned into our public areas.‚?Ě
The Mall at Steamtown, in particular, has become a vital public space for the city of Scranton, the artists agreed.
‚??The mall sees importance in supporting the arts. Very few places are doing that anymore,‚?Ě Smith said.
‚??It‚??s also very good to support local businesses, and this mall is an anchor in this town,‚?Ě Damian continued. ‚??It‚??s the highest single taxpaying entity in the city of Scranton. If the mall was not here, the downtown would collapse. This is not a luxury; this is a necessity.‚?Ě
Mall at Steamtown (300 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton) entertainment: live music, magic, and children‚??s entertainment every Tues., Thurs., noon-2 p.m.; children‚??s entertainment every Sun. 12:30-2:30 p.m. Open mic with Sarah Yzkanin or Janice Gambo Chesna every Wed., 6-8 p.m. Call 570.343.3400 for schedules.