Performing arts organizations around the world are scrambling to figure how to keep going when the very essence of their artistic pursuit — gathering together in person — is suddenly, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, no longer possible.
Here in Austin, a series of orders in recent days from Mayor Steve Adler has closed the city’s bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues until May 1. And public gatherings more than 10 people are also banned.
It’s a question Ron Berry, Fusebox Festival artistic director, has racing through his mind these days. The annual performing arts festival, originally scheduled this year for April 15-19, brings artists from around the world to Austin.
“How do you remake a festival like ours which is so rooted in live-ness to a digital platform?” Berry said in a recent phone interview. “It’s not just the performances that make the festival but the artist talks, the workshops, the meet-ups and happy hours — all those social events too are so much of the live experience. Now we’re thinking about how we can replicate that sense of being together, but online.”
While much is still in the planning, Berry said that some version of the Fusebox Festival is tentatively planned for April 24 through 26 with events live-streamed on easily accessible platforms like Zoom, YouTube Live or Facebook Live.
Berry said he and other Fusebox organizers are in discussions with all the artists on the Fusebox lineup, strategizing on how their work might best translate to live streaming. (A few artists have opted not to take part, citing the priority of other life circumstances at the moment.)
“There’s all kinds of options being considered (by artists),” Berry said. “Some may create new versions (of their performance) geared more towards a camera, not a live in-person audience. And we’re looking into perhaps go live on location for some things. Really, we’re just trying to be as agile as we can.”
Translating such a vast array of live performance art to an online venue is a study of its own, Berry noted.
“We’re using this moment as a learning opportunity, to figure what will be successful, or not, in how we can present an event (digitally) and still create a sense of live-ness,” Berry said. “And we’re hoping this will be a way to discover something useful for the future.”
Meanwhile, Austin Opera announced that it would take its previously scheduled production of Schubert’s “Winter Journey (Winterreise)” — originally to have been presented at the Austin Public Library event space in April — and make it into a film which will be made available in the coming months.
Austin Opera has also launched “Live from Indy Terrace,” a broadcast concert series. A 30-minute live concert will be broadcast on its Facebook page every Friday at 3 p.m.
Other performing arts organizations in Austin have initiated digital programming as well.
The Vortex has launched a combination of live digital programming and rebroadcasts of prior productions, scheduled in the evening Thursday through Sundays. Everything is hosted on the Vortex website: vortexrep.org
Austin Playhouse will launch an online workshop for Cyndi Williams’ latest project, transforming the actor/playwright’s “Today’s Gratitude” Facebook posts into a performance piece. The theater is also planning other initiatives for its Art in Isolation project.
Relatedly, the Austin Film Society has begun offering online screenings of some of the movies originally planned this spring for AFS Cinema.