by Marcina Zaccaria
With the theaters closed for over a month, Artistic Teams have created home viewing. TheaterPizzazz.com‘s Marcina Zaccaria posed four questions to Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and Producers about how they built a digital landscape. Here are the questions and the replies.
#1 – How did you accept the challenge of creating home viewing?
#2 – Who were your first participants?
#3 – Are you accepting special funding for this type of programming?
#4 – Do you think presenting theatrical work online will impact the way we watch theater in the future?
New York Theatre Workshop: Jim Nicola (Artistic Director) and Jeremy Blocker (Managing Director)
#1 A team of folks across the theatre—artistic staff, marketing staff, development staff, our incredible 2020 Administrative fellows—came together to talk about what we could uniquely offer to our community in this unprecedented moment. What moved us unanimously is what has always moved NYTW, which is visionary artists and an engaged compassionate community. Collectively—with the generous support of a Zoom account from the Howard Gilman Foundation—some folks took on the technology while others identified artists in our community who would be excited about sharing their singular take on the art of theatre making.
#2 We reached out to a number of artists who have long been part of our artistic community—trying to make sure that we were making space for a wide variety of perspectives and practices. Our “Fireside Chats” conversation series kicked off with Doug Wright interviewing director Lisa Peterson and designer Rachel Hauck. Our “Mondays @ 3” master class series launched with director Rachel Chavkin talking about how she interprets a text. And Jam Sessions, our newest addition to the lineup, will begin this weekend with an Instagram Live concert from brothers Daniel and Patrick Lazour.
#3 All programming is free and we’re accepting donations to help offset the cost of paying the artists and participants.
#4 While there’s certainly potential for new live storytelling using the technology that we’ve so quickly become familiar with, we hope that this time of isolation in front of screens will reinforce the irreplaceable magic that happens when a collective of artists and audience members are imagining new worlds together. We’re excited to take what we’re learning in creating these new events and hope to bring some of these forms of connection into our future practice.
Ciaran O’Reilly, Producing Director of Irish Rep
#1 Michael Mellamphy, a company member, initially approached us with the concept of asking other company members to perform on what was to be known as “The Show Must Go Online.” We reached out to the hundreds of artists who have performed at Irish Rep over the years and got an overwhelming response. The pieces included songs, poems and sections of plays. It was very moving and fulfilling to host the platform for their work.
#2 Michael Mellamphy was the first. He did a section of The Smuggler — a show we had to postpone that was about to go into rehearsals when COVID-19 hit. Melissa Errico followed with a song from Finian’s Rainbow. Roger Clark, Bill Irwin, KT Sullivan, Gabriel Byrne, Sean Gormley and a host of others followed.
#3 We have approached a number of funders for financial aid for this initiative but would welcome any help we can get. We would like to pass funds along to the artists who are going through a very tough time. We just launched a new initiative called “Meet The Makers” where we interview artists and people behind the scenes who create the shows.
#4 It certainly does force one to look at material in a different way. Plays where actors address the audience directly seem to lend themselves best to Zoom. It’s not a new idea, but when production values are restricted to the limitations of Zoom, it is up to the imagination of the viewers to fill in the blanks. It reminds us again that everything begins with the word and how powerful words can paint a picture in the mind. Perhaps it may push creators towards less lavish settings?
Our prayer, of course, is that watching theatrical work online will remind patrons of the richness and excitement of live theatre and will make them long for the day when the lobby doors open and the curtain goes up. The smell of the greasepaint; the roar of the crowd (wearing masks, of course).
Meghan Finn, Artistic Director & Danielle King, Managing Producer of The Tank
#1 While our physical space is closed for the time-being, we have quickly pivoted to making a space for our artistic community to gather and share work via a platform called CyberTank. What started on March 17th as a weekly short-form variety show is now expanding to include evening-length programming of new work by artists in all disciplines. We have begun featuring weekly series programming throughout the week.
#2 Our community of artists came together to found CyberTank–our regular artists who call The Tank home who work in the mediums of theater, music, dance, storytelling, poetry, film, puppetry and comedy.
#3 Absolutely. With the course and timeline of the pandemic so uncertain, we’ve essentially shifted our programmatic mission over to the digital space of CyberTank. While we’ve submitted proposals for funding specific to CyberTank, we see it as another tool and platform we can provide emerging artists to experiment and audiences to gather together.
#4 The digital platform is just one more tool we’ll have in our theatrical arsenals. Exploring how theater translates to or can be created for and presented in a digital frame will test our assumptions about theatricality and offer new paths forward for engaging in artistic practices. There’s no doubt that we’ll want to return to the theater – to gather in the same physical space together- to experience a completely ephemeral and unique moment. Artists will lead the way as they always have in determining how we convene to tell stories, once it is safe to do so.
Mia Yoo, Artistic Director of LaMaMa
#1 When La MaMa first ceased our live performances, the show that was in the Ellen Stewart Theatre at the time was Pananadem by indigenous Filipino dance company, Kinding Sindaw. We immediately decided to perform the show one final time, at what was supposed to be the Sunday matinee and livestream that performance with our partners CultureHub and Howlround Theater Commons. La MaMa has been livestreaming performances for years, but that performance received our highest number of views to date.
In 2009, La MaMa and the Seoul Institute of the Arts founded CultureHub, an art/tech studio, focused on collaborations and art-making with emerging technologies. This includes new media programs, artistic and educational collaborations across distance, art and tech workshops for youth, experiments and residencies in digital storytelling, and live-streaming our performances in our theatres.
After live-streaming Pananadem and CultureHub’s media arts festival, Re-Fest, on the weekend of March 13-15, we decided to host a weekly live variety show, Downtown Variety, online on Fridays at 8pm. We see Downtown Variety as a continuation of the work that we are doing with CultureHub in exploring new forms of art-making and performance online. We work 6-7 artists each performance who collaborate with our technologists at CultureHub.
Our online programs now include Café La MaMa Live, shows that highlight the La MaMa artistic community, as well as inviting guest curators to create an evening of interdisciplinary art, LiveTalks, conversations with artists and thinkers, and La MaMa Kids Online our digital children’s performance and workshop programing. La MaMa grew out of a necessity for non-traditional artists of all backgrounds and identities to have space. With our physical theatres not open, we continue to provide space for artists now online. We look to the live experience and are exploring new ways that artists and audiences can gather and be creative.
One of our artists in Downtown Variety said, “Staying creative and being creative—it’s the main thing getting me through this time.” This inspires to persevere in these explorations.
#2 The first episode of Downtown Variety, our artists were: Perry Yung, Jerome Ellis, John King, Kate Siahaan-Rigg, Tiri Kananuruk, Neel Murgai, Baba Israel and Grace Galu. Our second take had Rena Anakwe, Daniel Koren, John Kelly, Chris Ignacio, Object Collection, Starr Busby, Kim Savarino, and Susanna Cook.
#3 At this moment we have not received special funding for this work. We have applied for an emergency grant for us to facilitate this program. We are working towards increasing the small honorarium we are paying the artists who appear.
#4 La MaMa will always present live performance in our theatres and nothing will replace the need for us as humans to gather and experience something in a physical space together. New technologies have already changed the way that we engage with the world. Already, artists and audiences are expecting different kinds of engagement in the artistic experience. I believe live performance will continue but the shape and form that it takes will change as it always has. Artists have to be rigorous in experimenting with these new tools so that they are part of the dialogue around technology so that we can see how it relates to humanity and what it means to be human.
Crystal Field, Artistic Director of Theater for the New City
#1 We accept it as a necessity at this time. This is going to be Theater in the age of the Covid-19. We have created online viewing on the Facebook platform and on Zoom.
#2 John David West, Myrna Duarte, David Aronson, Frank Avella, Toby Armour, and George Ferencz.
#3 We are accepting this funding, but as of now we have not asked for it. However, we were declined for the resource and impact grant (shocking, disgusting), and we are desperate for funds.
#4 It will improve the use of multimedia in theater. No doubt about it.
Glory Kadigan, Founder and Artistic Director of Planet Connections Theatre
#1 – We created Planet Connections first virtual theatrical experience, and we had a lot of fun creating it.
#2 -They were part of Planet Connections Virtual Theatrical Series on April 11, 2020. Mondays at 7:30pm through the end of June, we are presenting Virtual Theatrical Experiences.
#3 – We asked for donations for the artists, and they actually made some money. We’re like street performers now without a theater, but people put some cash in our hats so we’ll be buying groceries this week!
#4 – Yes. This is a new way of creating theater, but we’re doing it. They can take away the building and all our fancy equipment, but we’ll still create theater. We’ve found new ways of lighting, costuming, sets, props, collaborating with an audience. We even did a singalong with our audience where we share screened the lyrics. It was a great time! Don’t have a fresnel anymore? Use a flashlight. Don’t have a costume? Make one out of your pillow case. Need cash? Ask the audience to put some money in your hat via Venmo or Paypal. Don’t have a set? Make one out of items in your apartment. We used an umbrella, a candelabra, a bicycle and a bucket. Theater artists have been adapting for thousands of years so we’ll make do, like always.
Seth Soloway, Director, The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College
#1 We thought about what we could do well virtually, we didn’t want to put out anything that did not uphold our traditional level of artistic quality. We then thought about what would help people the most in this moment, things like at home activities for children. The fusion of these 2 goals served as our starting point.
#2 Treehouse Shakers, Doug Varone, Kyle Abraham.
#4 I do, but we all find ourselves in a moment in time where we are powerless to stop that from happening. So we’re best off to lean into it, use this time to figure out how to keep art in the lives of everyone, get really good at it, and be ready to pivot to whatever the new day in the arts will bring when this crisis ends.