New Director Plans to Broaden the Scope of Lkld Live

Lkld Live needs to be less a music venue than a home for creativity as it moves into maturity and its next act, said Nate Fleming, the nonprofit arts venue’s new executive director.

Music will remain a mainstay — the downtown venue has a strong following for its musical tribute shows — but the goal is to make Lkld Live a place where people can experience anything from immersive theater like murder mysteries to improv comedy and art classes in a space that will serve, at times, as a gallery, Fleming said.

And with that, Lkld Live should see a fuller calendar, with an emphasis on classes and learning early in the week and live events in the final half of the week.

But rather than a milquetoast place for all tastes, the organization hopes to “see if we can get weird with it, too,” Fleming said.

Nate Fleming inside Lkld Live today as a Latin band set up for a video shoot.

Fleming, 28, a Virginia-bred, Chicago-trained improv comic, performer and performing arts entrepreneur, has a resume that suggests he is comfortable with the kind improvisation and adaptation needed as the city’s live entertainment scene booms and creates more competition.

Among his credits are the founding of Swan City Improv and Lakeland Food Tours. He will continue to run those ventures.

Fleming replaces Shane Lawlor, the 3-year-old organization’s inaugural director, who left Lkld Live to manage The Yard on Mass, a food truck park and beer hall. 

Editor’s note and disclosure: Barry Friedman, founder of LkldNow, is a member of the Lkld Live nonprofit board of directors. He did only light editing on this article.

“Lkld Live’s mission has always been about promoting arts and entertainment and performance,” Lkld Live Chairman Chuck McDanal said, “especially stuff that doesn’t fit in the corner of a bar.”

“Shane was good at finding stuff that didn’t necessarily have a home at other places,” McDanal added. 

McDanal credits Lawlor for getting the venue going in those uncertain early years, but as Lkld Live has matured so has Lakeland’s entertainment offerings and so have the fiscal burdens.

Instagram – Fleming, center, and other Swan City Improv cast members perform at Lkld Live in April 2018:

When it started, Lkld Live got free rent at 202 N. Massachusetts Ave. as an in-kind donation from building owner and LkldTV founder Randy Borden. Borden sold the building to Baron Realty last May

Under the new ownership, Lkld Live will share the downtown building at Massachusetts and Cedar Street — known for its curved art deco overhang — with The Rec Room, an arcade bar set to open this spring.

“We’re paying (Baron Realty President) Cory Petcoff now,” McDanal said. “He’s great, he’s been easy to work with — he’s made terms easy to make it work.” 

But paid ain’t free, and that changes things.

Lkld Live, a 501c3 organization, is sustainable, McDanal said, but the vast majority of its revenue comes from the door and the bar, which has limited the scope of the operation. Fleming has big plans, but he is also charged with finding the donor base necessary to make them happen. 

“My biggest focus is acquiring the proper funding,” Fleming said.

More information about events at Lkld Live can be found on its website at www.lkldlive.com and its Facebook page.

With funding, Fleming wants to update Lkld Live’s interior with a bigger stage with a backstage and a more pronounced aesthetic. A logo change is also in the works. 

“I want Lkld Live to have an identity,” Fleming said.

He also wants to expand the bar operation to take advantage of one of Lkld Live’s largest sources of revenue, he said, referencing a lesson from one of his veteran comedy instructors in Chicago: “You’re not selling tickets, you’re selling alcohol,” Fleming recounts. 

Then again, Lkld Live will also be selling season passes, sponsorships and good feelings and recognition for donors, Fleming said. 

It plans to its first fundraiser on Saturday, March 28, with details to come. 

Now that Lkld Live is established, this change is an opportunity for the nonprofit to lean into its mission, McDanal and Fleming agreed.

“Half the mission statement of Lkld Live is to educate,” Fleming said as he listed off the types of classes he’d like to see find a home in the space, like songwriting and painting and when mentioned by a reporter, sewing, sure.

McDanal added: “writing workshops, comedy, acting — any kind of art thing. … That was always part of Lkld Live’s missions; we just hadn’t gotten there yet.”

“We’re not trying to be what Lakeland Community (Theatre) does or what Polk Theatre does or Platform Art, but we have little pieces of all of those,” McDanal said. “It’s a nonprofit whose mission is to promote arts education and culture in the community. There’s a lot of things that fit in that bucket.” 

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