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May 31, 2020
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1

Two the younger members of the Goodspeed staff host “In the Spotlight,” a podcast that features a new episode every other Wednesday. Michael Fling is one of the hosts, along with Anika Chapin.

Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals

Two the younger members of the Goodspeed staff host “In the Spotlight,” a podcast that features a new episode every other Wednesday. Michael Fling is one of the hosts, along with Anika Chapin. (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )

2

The Goodspeed podcast, “In the Spotlight,” focuses on favorite shows new and old and analyzes a song or a scene to show how it works and what is involved. Anika Chapin hosts the show with Michael Fling. Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals

The Goodspeed podcast, “In the Spotlight,” focuses on favorite shows new and old and analyzes a song or a scene to show how it works and what is involved. Anika Chapin hosts the show with Michael Fling. (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )

3

The Florence Griswold Museum has opened its grounds for people who would like to explore different guided walks, while being respectful of other visitors by staying at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. Photo courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum

The Florence Griswold Museum has opened its grounds for people who would like to explore different guided walks, while being respectful of other visitors by staying at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. (Photo courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum )

4

The Florence Griswold Museum has opened its grounds for people who would like to explore different guided walks, while being respectful of other visitors by staying at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. 

Photo courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum

The Florence Griswold Museum has opened its grounds for people who would like to explore different guided walks, while being respectful of other visitors by staying at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. (Photo courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum )

5

Donna Lynn Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed, hosts In the (Home) Office also on Zoom on Thursday evenings. This live event looks at a new musical works.

Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals

Donna Lynn Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed, hosts In the (Home) Office also on Zoom on Thursday evenings. This live event looks at a new musical works. (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )

6

The Florence Griswold Museum has opened its grounds for people who would like to explore different guided walks, while being respectful of other visitors by staying at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. Photo courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum

The Florence Griswold Museum has opened its grounds for people who would like to explore different guided walks, while being respectful of other visitors by staying at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. (Photo courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum )

7

The Wadsworth Atheneum is evaluating how best to serve its audiences and has seen a dramatic increase in online traffic, from people all over the world. Photo courtesy of Wadsworth Atheneum

The Wadsworth Atheneum is evaluating how best to serve its audiences and has seen a dramatic increase in online traffic, from people all over the world. (Photo courtesy of Wadsworth Atheneum )

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The TheaterWorks Living Room Series featured Bandits on the Run, among other artists. Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks

The TheaterWorks Living Room Series featured Bandits on the Run, among other artists. (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks )

Arts Organizations Look to Future, Make Plans to Reconnect

Published May 20, 2020 • Last Updated 11:50 am, May 19, 2020

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“We will survive.”

That is the consensus among leaders of six of Connecticut’s major arts organizations.

Elaine C. Carroll, chief executive officer of the New Haven Symphony says, “we understand our role in the community and what the most effective regional symphonies look like.”

At the same time, they all understand there will significant changes in the way performances and exhibitions are presented. Presenting more material online is a given for the future. Those involved with performances are not sure whether live performances, even with limited audiences, will begin before 2021.

While the arts are still offering experiences in a variety of forms online, what has been lost during the shutdowns is the collective experience, whether it be in a symphony hall, a theater, or a museum.

That live experience and the energy of an audience, performers say, not only changes at each performance but causes the performance to be different each time. For museums, patrons are missing the ability to stand close or far away from a work of art or to see the juxtaposition with other works nearby in a gallery. Yet all agree that providing arts online will become a feature of their existence.

The question is how to financially support the creation and distribution of the content. The answers to that will vary; some are limited by union contracts, others by technology limitations, and more by uncertainty if sufficient viewers will be willing to pay for access.

Right now, from TheaterWorks to the New Haven Symphony to the Florence Griswold Museum, all are making content available online for free.

As several executives pointed out, even the well-established institutions that had been charging for online and streaming content, such as the Metropolitan Opera, are offering it for free during this period.

“We are giving back to our supporters and our community,” Rob Ruggiero, artistic director of TheaterWorks says. “We are giving and giving.”

While they are doing that, the arts executive interviewed are also using this time to increase strategic planning and reconsidering the organization’s central mission and how to achieve it.

As Hartford Atheneum Director and CEO Thomas J. Loughman says, “It’s time to think what makes sense, what could have impact, what is the purpose of the museum, and how can we reconnect with core things.”

One thing, all were thankful for the loyal support of audiences, patrons, and donors. Many have contributed the cost of tickets rather than request a refund, or have made additional donations.

New Haven Symphony: How to Serve

What does the future of symphony orchestras look like? Carroll believes it will look different, at least for a while. It would be difficult for the entire New Haven Symphony, which includes well over 60 musicians, to maintain social distance and play; few if any concert halls would be big enough.

“How can we be of service during this crisis?” is the question Carroll and music director Alasdair Neale have been asking themselves.

One way they have answered that question is to provide online resources for students and teachers.

The symphony has produced podcasts (Listen UP!) that connect classical music to popular music; think of Mozart and Adele. These even include a quiz with results emailed to teachers. Carroll says that not only have these been well received in Connecticut, but schools and colleges all over the country are using them including New York City’s LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts.

In addition, they have developed materials for elementary schools, which volunteer teachers are now reviewing. With school budgets often reducing arts instruction, these could be welcome supplements for budget-strapped districts.

Carroll has reached out to senior living facilities to make sure they too are aware of the online resources. When she discovered that a lack of technology was an issue, she worked to get iPads donated so that residents could take advantage of what is available.

Each Thursday evening, the New Haven Symphony streams a weekly show at 7:30 p.m. that includes musicians, interviews, and a Q&A session through which listeners can ask questions. So far these shows have a steady audience of 150 or more households. Among the artists that have participated include violinists Vadim Gluzman and Alexi Kenney. These are available at the NewHavenSymphony YouTube channel.

The League of American Symphonies is now looking at a variety of issues including health and safety for musicians, particularly wind and brass players. They not only can’t play with masks, but the brass section produces a lot of spit during the course of a performance.

The New Haven Symphony has also scheduled professional development activities for orchestra members including sexual harassment training. Carroll points out that during normal circumstances, they wouldn’t have time to schedule these.

Florence Griswold Museum: Focus on Outdoors

The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme considers itself a mid-size museum with more than 80,000 visitors a year.

For Director Becky Beaulieu, the challenge is to revise visitors’ expectations. Like most organizations, the reopening, when it occurs, will be gradual. Already the museum is working on plans that include increased sanitizing, guidelines for visitors, and orientation of visitors and staff training. She feels lucky that the museum has a strong endowment and was able to obtain federal payroll protection funding, which allowed all the staff to continuing working.

In addition, planning is underway for increased use of social media and the website, virtual tours of all the interior spaces and study programs via Zoom. In fact, the material has been accessed from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries.

Right now, Beaulieu urges visitors to enjoy two outdoor parts of the museum. The garden is both a community and cultural resource. The Artists’ Trail that opened last July lets visitors choose from four guided walks: the River Walk that visits Lieutenant River Overlook and Bow Bridge; Hedgerow Walk, which includes the site of Childe Hassan’s studio (he was a famous American impressionist); Woodland Walk; and Garden Walk. A guide with map can be downloaded at florencegriswoldmuseum.org.

“The artists’ trail is a landscape of art history,” Beaulieu says. “It provides a respite and a beautiful setting and another way that the arts serve our emotional health.”

It also shows visitors the idyllic and picturesque settings that made the site so popular for many famous artists.

The staff also is providing material for educational purposes, including a variety of art programs, and virtual tours and art activities that can be done at home.

Hartford Atheneum: Welcoming Visitors Worldwide

How do you reopen to thousands of visitors a museum that has numerous galleries, stairwells, doors, elevators, and restrooms? It is the equivalent of three acres to keep clean, plus the theater and lecture halls. Hartford Atheneum Director and CEO Thomas Loughman calls it the “known knows.”

As the oldest art museum in the country and the biggest in Connecticut, the Atheneum is rethinking its programming, determining what the public is thirsty for and deciding whether the Atheneum needs to change how it looks.

Though much of the Atheneum is free (40 percent don’t pay any admission fee), there’s a financial impact as well. Loughman expects that neither the lecture hall nor the theater will be open soon, which means a decrease in revenues. Plus, social distancing could easily result in fewer tours from schools and senior centers.

Like other arts organizations, the Atheneum is working with art teachers to create additional curricula and content and the staff is posting videos multiple times a week. While art is its main focus, the Atheneum also offers activities related to dance, music, and more.

Traffic to the Atheneum’s various social media sites has increased 250 percent in the last months. As with other Connecticut organizations, the visitors are from throughout the world.

Goodspeed Musicals: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Goodspeed hopes to have an abbreviate season this year with South Pacific opening in early September, but in the interim, the theater is working hard to offer programming to anyone.

Greatspeed, on Tuesday evenings via Zoom, focuses on a show that was produced at Goodspeed. It features a discussion of the show, with short video clips of the production and discussion with one of the people involved in creating the production. It began with the Goodspeed production of Showboat but was so successful, it is continuing. Go to goodspeed.org to RSVP; you will be sent the information to join the Zoom session.

Donna Lynn Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed, hosts In the (Home) Office, also on Zoom on Thursday evenings. This live event looks at a new musical work, perhaps drawn from Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals, the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony, or shows planned for the Terris Theatre in Chester. It includes meeting with those involved in the creation of the show and hearing them discuss the show, its status, and hearing a few songs from the show.

Two the younger members of the staff, Michael Fling and Anika Chapin, host “In the Spotlight,” a podcast that features a new episode every other Wednesday. The pair take a favorite show, either old or new, and analyze a song or a scene to show how it works and what is involved. Hilton called it “a deep dive into a piece of musical theater.”

In addition, Goodspeed has events on social media, Instagram, and other media.

If you wonder whether Goodspeed could stream past productions, Hilton explains that it would be difficult and costly. While the actors’ union Equity and the other unions are looking at possibilities, the costs would be prohibitive in large-scale shows. All that can be shown is what is known as “b-roll,” about 15 minutes of material that is for use in advertising and promotional activities.

The theater does film a three-camera archive video of every production, but under the rules, it can only be viewed at the Goodspeed Library, which is now closed.

“Our goal is to keep us alive in the minds of our audiences,” Hilton says.

TheaterWorks: Terrified, Optimistic

“I’m glad I’m an artistic director,” Rob Ruggiero of TheaterWorks says somewhat facetiously.

Why? He is also a freelance director (he’s scheduled to direct South Pacific) at Goodspeed this fall, if it happens. Like all the other theater people, he has seen his commitments canceled.

He’s describes himself as optimistic but terrified.

“It’s not the end of live theater,” he says, but he worries how many theaters will remain standing. “It’s looking more and more like it will be 2021 before we restart.”

Right now, TheaterWorks is trying to give back to its supporters. Every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. there’s the Living Room Music Series with a guest artist on Facebook Live. On Thursdays on Instagram at 5 p.m. you can “Get Sauced,” a virtual happy hour with Ruggiero and a guest or two. It’s informal fun.

As he thinks about the future, Ruggiero believes that plays may have smaller casts and there will be fewer “intimate moments,” not just scenes related to sex, but even causal hugging, kissing, and more. He also thinks that rehearsal times may be shortened or at least some of the rehearsal period, the table work where production team and actors go over the script and motivations, will be done remotely. (As England is thinking about reopening theaters, it is calling for social distancing on stage and during rehearsals.)

He also thinks the theater-going experience will be different; not just with social distancing, but with people entering and leaving the theater promptly, no lingering in the lobby and no food or beverage service.

TheaterWorks was able to stream the video of its award winning 2017 production of Next to Normal early in May to patrons of the theater. He had to gain the approval of the licensing company, which required the audience be limited. So emails went out to subscribers and ticket buyers who had to RSVP. Just before show time, each was sent the link information and password to see the production.

“I can’t wait to go into a theater,” he says. “I want to be there in the audience; I’ll be grateful and excited.”

So will we all.

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