The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc for many industries, and those in the arts community have been impacted substantially: shows cancelled, seasons ended and highly anticipated performances scrapped. As summer begins, there are more questions than answers about the coronavirus, making it difficult for arts leaders in the D.C. area to plan for their upcoming season. Since artists need to be locked in and shows need to be arranged, everyone is doing their best to plan a season that can happen in the current environment.
The Washington Chorus had to cancel four major concerts from March to May of 2020 in response to Covid-19, losing more than $100,000 in ticket revenue. Additionally, its planned collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra for performing and live recording Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 has been postponed from June 2020 to a future NSO season.
Still, this is an exciting time for the chorus, especially as it welcomes Dr. Eugene Rogers this season as its new artistic director.
“We are avidly engaged in conversations with community, education and artistic partners to develop programs and opportunities to share, learn, perform, create and grow in the months and years ahead,” executive director Stephen Marc Beaudoin says.
“We believe that innovation and a commitment to inclusive excellence will guide some exciting programs including online masterclasses and at-home open singws, film and music collaborations, livestreaming concerts, house parties when it’s safe to begin gathering in small groups, and much more.”
With that in mind, the group will be producing art and creating connections online in many creative ways, and in-person as it becomes safe to do so.
“Digital platforms are a powerful way to produce art and create connections, and The Washington Chorus eagerly invites the community to join us in experiencing music and sharing stories together online,” Beaudoin says. “Already, we have piloted a new talk-show format livestream show, called TWC TV, celebrating the joy and art of singing, which is available on our website at www.thewashingtonchorus.org.”
The show includes illuminating and fun interviews, never-before-seen archival recording releases and live at-home performances. Additionally, the organization will be rolling out low-cost ticketed livestream events in the weeks ahead and viewers will be able to purchase tickets to unique online performances, gatherings and streaming shows on its website.
In early March, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. were three days ahead of opening its show, Genderosity, when the decision was made to postpone. Its rehearsals, outreach performances and other chorus-related activities have also been cancelled for at least the duration of the season, which ends in June.
“We are now in a holding pattern around planning next season,” says Dr. Thea Kano, artistic director of the Gay Men’s Chorus. “Scientific consensus says that it will not be safe to sing in groups until a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for Covid-19 is widely available. It is difficult to plan ahead when the future is so unknown and when the information coming out about the pandemic changes each day.”
In the meantime, the group’s leaders are discussing presenting virtual concerts next season in lieu of live performances, knowing that it must adapt to survive.
“We have begun producing virtual choir projects, where our singers record their own part at home and submit the video to be mixed among the other singers’ videos,” Kano says. “We are meeting with our singers virtually for social gatherings and for sectional rehearsals. Our small ensembles, including our GenOUT Youth Chorus, have also been meeting regularly via Zoom, both to sing, and to check in which each other.”
Jenny Bilfield, president and CEO of Washington Performing Arts (WPA), says the organization is finalizing plans and will announce an update on 2020-2021 programming on June 15. One thing she knows for sure: It will be a schedule of events that can exist with or without an audience.
“The concern we have on a micro-level is that no one can predict when we can gather again safely,” she says. “The timing is so unknown. We are cementing artist relationships and looking at a heavier reliance upon philanthropy than on ticket sales. We expect to have a heavier use of creative digital content to maintain a connection toward patrons and our artists.”
WPA is also continuing to invest in its arts education programs, currently working with more than 100 public schools in the region.
George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax and the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas had to cancel or postpone all performances and events through August 8, and as of May 21, both venues have postponed announcing the 2020-2021 seasons to wait for George Mason University’s decision regarding in-person events beyond that date.
“Within two weeks, we launched Mason Arts at Home, a digital platform which featured livestreamed performances and conversations with guest artists, as well as releases of previously recorded content and opportunities to experience work by our talented alumni, students and faculty,” says Adrienne Bryant Godwin, director of programming of both Mason’s Center for the Arts and the Hylton Performing Arts Center. “All professional artists were compensated for their participation.”
Those in charge are already brainstorming ways to modify the Mason Arts at Home platform to continue to engage with the community for the 2020-2021 season.
“While we are all busy creating contingency plans and multiple scenarios for how we can proceed in the fall, we are brainstorming creative ways we can continue to support artists who are willing to experiment together with us in this digital playground,” Godwin says. “Without artists, we lose our culture and our identity, and so it is our shared responsibility to do our part to ensure they can survive this pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the financial stability of our artistic landscape.”
One thing that has been prevalent since the start of the stay-at-home orders is artists have been performing on live streams regularly, be it concerts, readings or solo performances.
“Artists have made themselves more available in their living rooms and studios, answering questions from people online, and that access connects audiences and artists more deeply,” Bilfield says. “But we have to figure out a way for artists to go back to work and not just share their work for free. For the record, Washington Performing Arts provides an honorarium to artists who create work online for us – we do not expect them to share their work for free, regardless of where they perform.”
Music and art provide hope and a connection to humanity, and that connection is hard to come by in isolation.
“Art often takes over where the words leave off, even if the art is a song where the lyrics say exactly what you are feeling or simply makes you feel connected,” Kano says. “It is also a nice distraction from the quarantine and inspiring to see what artists are creating in this unprecedented time in our lives.”
George Mason’s Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; http://cfa.gmu.edu
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C.: 1140 3rd St. NE, DC; www.gmcw.org
Hylton Performing Arts Center: 10960 George Mason Cir. Manassas, VA; www.hyltoncenter.org
National Symphony Orchestra: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org/nso
The Washington Chorus: 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.thewashingtonchorus.org
Washington Performing Arts: 1400 K St. #500, NW, DC; www.washingtonperformingarts.org
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