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Nov. 23, 2020: On Dualities

Good day,

We approach the holiday of Thanksgiving here in the U.S. with mixed emotions.

We’re thankful — and even somewhat optimistic — of the news that several vaccines that are being developed show promising results with their distribution expected to begin soon and widespread delivery in the new year. But we’re also anxious about the staggering spikes in positive cases and deaths from the covid virus through the country as well as in many parts of the globe.

We’re thankful that the U.S. election is over and a clear winner has emerged with a strategic and coordinated plan to deal with the pandemic and economy. But we’re anxious about the instability of the political landscape caused by the continuing challenges to the vote, to the electoral process and to a stable transition.

We’re thankful that we’ve survived nearly nine months of the pandemic, but anxious about how things will play out in 2021.

These conflicting emotions are likely to remain for some time but if there’s one thing the arts community has shown this year it is that it can deal with multiple and even sometimes conflicting dynamics.

Though we long for the return of live indoor encounters and pine for “the way it was,” arts groups are keeping audiences engaged with on-line connections and even creating new kinds of artistic content. Will these new offerings — now supported with audiences’ now-familiar digital habits — continue in a post-pandemic time? Do they suggest the possibility of a new revenue stream? Perhaps.

In the meantime, we’re just thankful for positive news wherever we can find it. Take the resolution — finally — of the bitter conflict between two major entertainment industry unions — the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents 51,000 stage actors and state managers, and SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 people. Both unions reached an agreement regarding streaming live events, allowing a clearer path forward for arts groups who want to create and monetize their efforts on these platforms. (But looking at the details of the agreement might require a new navigation system. Still, at least we can move somewhat forward.)

What else? We’re thankful for organizations who are planning for the new year by re-envisioning their artistic homes in fresh and even fundamental ways: from restructuring for diversity/equality/inclusion, to exploring membership models, to exploring deeper virtual engagement with subscribers.

Like Chicago’s “Steppenwolf NOW.” It offers “a world-wide audience exclusive Steppenwolf content like June’s radio play version of Arthur Miller’s ‘The American Clock,’ which featured ensemble members Laurie Metcalf, John Malkovich, Joan Allen, and more under the direction of Austin Pendleton. Steppenwolf’s virtual stage, which gives members access to all Steppenwolf NOW content through Aug. 31, 2021, has grown so that the theatre’s digital audience comprises viewers from 300 cities, 41 states, and 12 countries.”

Not every arts venue has the high-profile that Steppenwolf Theatre has with its global reach, but with strategic marketing beyond “the usual suspects,” many may reap rewards down the line It all depends on understanding the nature of the work being presented and embracing innovative approaches for reaching fans beyond one’s base or geography.

Then there’s simply the act of making new art in different ways. We’re thankful for creative artists and the institutions that say yes to them.

Like Los Angeles’ Center Theater Group which launched digital stage, with Luis Alfaro’s “Mojada” to be followed by his “Electricidad” on Nov. 22. As reported in The Los Angeles Times: “The plays’ journey from stage to screen — and the transformation of CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre into a filming studio — is gripping drama unto itself, a tale of overcoming adversity and finding meaning and connection in the darkest hours….CTG, like numerous arts organizations across the country, is pushing ahead with hybrid forms of theater…Since early October, cast and crew have been trying to conjure the magic of live performance via carefully filmed productions. Actors working under abundant COVID-19 protocols, seasoned theater directors and a post-production team have been crafting streaming productions to be seen in the comfort of one’s own home.”

There’s also a new willingness in many arts quarters to create partnerships, alliances and collaborations outside the obvious go-to groups of the past.

One example is the arts marriage between a museum and Netflix as reported in MediaMonks: “An outstanding example of this is the newly launched ‘The Queen and the Crown’ digital exhibit by Netflix and the Brooklyn Museum, made in collaboration with MediaMonks. The exhibit highlights costumes featured in both Netflix-original series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ and season four of ‘The Crown’…Vogue calls the exhibit ‘the kind of immersive concept that could only happen with the help of the internet,’ noting the ability to get a closer look at the costumes’ dazzling details than would be possible in-person, as well as the brightly-lit virtual venue that would have damaged the costumes if they stood there in reality.”

Yes, there are mixed emotions this week with the sometimes conflicting good news/bad news. But art-makers and those who support them are used to living in a kind of duality: of dealing with an ever-challenging, sometime depressing, sometimes exhilarating present, while envisioning something new, different and marvelous ahead.

And we’re thankful for that, too.

— Frank Rizzo


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