It’s no secret Harrisonburg is a haven for the arts, but one competition in the Valley serves to crown the best fake artist in the region.
Lip Sync Battle in the ‘Burg is a fundraiser for the Shenandoah Valley chapter of Any Given Child, a program of the Arts Council of the Valley in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center. Closing out its fifth year, the final show is Wednesday at Court Square Theater.
J.R. Snow, coordinator of Harrisonburg City Public Schools fine arts department, applied to bring Any Given Child to Harrisonburg five years ago. As program manager, he has worked to extend the equity and access of arts in schools throughout the Valley by joining the Arts Council to fund arts education programs for students in preschool through eighth grade.
“Our main focus is providing live art experiences, and what that looks like is either taking students to art events or bringing art into schools. Our programs are outside of the curriculum. It allows students to find their identities as artists,” Snow said.
Marc Lonnett, a faculty member at Bridgewater College, is a finalist in this year’s competition, who decided to compete after performing backup for his wife’s lip-sync career last year. Lonnett is no stranger to being center stage, with a background in theater and as a former mascot, but he said the pseudo-sing-off is only half the fun.
“You can have a medium like a lip-sync battle that will spark people’s interest, but knowing what it’s raising money for is just that cherry on top,” Lonnett said.
To celebrate both the organization and competition’s wood anniversary, alumni from previous lip-sync years will join the stage to perform together after intermission.
In previous years, the final show has sold out, but this year Court Square Theater sold out of both preliminary shows, and tickets for Wednesday’s event were sold out in under three hours. Fans can still cheer for their favorite performers with a livestream sponsored by Appeal Production at Habana Cafe from 7 to 9 p.m. for $15. Tickets are available online or at the door.
Breaking records on records for the benefit event, over 25,000 votes were cast during the last lip-sync performance, according to Snow.
Susan Morrell Comfort is the assistant director for HCPS’s one-act theater competition and has over 20 years of theater experience. She said she does not often dance unless it is to embarrass her children, but she performed “Mr. Mom” and a medley of songs that use the word “shake” in the second preliminary night on Nov. 6.
Comfort said she was terrified to climb on stage and showcase a talent she had never practiced, much less honed, but she enjoyed trying something new with the knowledge that her efforts are benefiting the region’s schools.
“I like doing things outside of my comfort zone, and I like performing, so I just got up there — no experience, no idea what I was getting into. It is so much fun; it is so entertaining. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s amazing,” Comfort said. “We raised a lot of money for a good cause and had a lot of fun with the people in it.”
While judges give commentary and feedback to the fake singers, points are actually granted by votes from the general public. Anyone can cast 15 votes for $5, and on the night of the event, voting prices are reduced to $1 and are free after the show begins.
By Thanksgiving, Team Maureen was leading with 3,165 votes followed by Team Amanda with 1,360 and Team Brad with 830, but due to the style of voting, there is no guarantee who will win until the end of Wednesday’s performances.
Any Given Child’s website said the event has raised over $50,000 for arts education since 2014, and Snow said he hopes the fun and excitement will bring in more for the fundraiser.
“People like to be silly, and we don’t allow that inner child to come out,” Snow said. “There’s an artist in all of us that was maybe prevalent when we were younger. Now you can participate or watch. It’s hilarity and creativity.”