Pandemic Programming, From A to Zoom
It’s too bad history has forgotten what prompted someone, way back when, to coin the phrase “The show must go on.” Maybe a stray elephant at the circus? A swarm of bats at the opera?
We’ll never know. But we do know this: Many of Iowa’s performing-arts groups have figured out how to keep the show going even now, during the pandemic, when live events can help us feel connected while we’re physically apart.
Several groups shared some creative work-arounds last week during a recorded session at the virtual Iowa Arts Summit. (They’ll swap ideas again on Aug. 18, when the Iowa Arts Council co-hosts a public town-hall meeting with the National Endowment for the Arts.) Here are just a few examples:
Rooftop concerts in Dubuque
The Smokestack, an arts-and-culture venue in an old brick factory by the river, regularly hosts concerts, plays, art exhibitions, drag shows, raves — you name it.
They’ve staged concerts on the roof, too, but this summer, they’ve switched up the format. While bands play on the roof, fans spread out on the parking lot below, where the best — and safest — seats are farther back.
“Even if you put a stage on the ground in an outdoor performance, people tend to congregate at the stage,” Smokestack co-owner Scott Cornwell says. “But here, coming up next to the building doesn’t help. Your best view is out in the middle of the parking lot.”
The first concert, with 20 acts, was so successful that they teamed up with Dubuque Main Street for a second event with food trucks, drinks and extra safety precautions. Volunteers handed out masks.
Up next: Another drive-in concert is set for Aug. 22. Find the details on Smokestack’s Facebook page.
Music in Sioux City
As soon as the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra canceled its traditional concerts, the musicians started cranking out content online — some live and some pre-recorded.
They offered a Cinco de Mayo concert and a program called “Bach TuBa Future.” They taught kids how to make their own musical instruments.
“I’m sure parents are still cussing me out because of the glue issue on some of those, but that’s neither here nor there,” CEO Travis Morgan says.
As the content caught on — with more than 100,000 views and 800 new Facebook followers — guest soloists who had performed with the symphony in the past wanted to chime in, too. The pianist Mackenzie Melemed played showtunes from his apartment in New York.
Orchestra musicians also offered free lessons, for all ages.
“We had a 75-year-old woman who was trying to learn how to play the violin because she’d always wanted to try,” Morgan said. “So here she goes, because here’s her chance.”
Up next: Tune in for new content on the symphony’s Facebook page.
Drive-in theater in Des Moines
David Kilpatrick, the executive director at the Des Moines Playhouse, was driving by a baseball field this spring when an idea struck him: Maybe they could stage a show there, where the audience could spread out on the bleachers. He knew of a two-man play called “Rounding Third,” about a pair of rival Little League coaches.
But then he reasoned that if the ballpark reopened for events, well, the ball players would get first dibs. So he and the Playhouse team turned their attention to their own parking lot. They sketched out different scenarios on a map.
“Google Earth is such a wonderful place to explore ideas,” Kilpatrick says.
The result: a drive-in theater. The company staged “Rounding Third” along with three other small-cast shows.
Admission is free, but so far, freewill donations have almost matched what the company could have made with a play indoors.
“We could not be happier,” Kilpatrick says.
Up next: “The Roommates” continues through Sunday, with the family-friendly “Miss Electricity” on Saturday morning. Reservations are full, but you can call 515–277–6261 for a spot on the waiting list.
Dance in Council Bluffs
This spring, the American Midwest Ballet had just moved into its new space at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center when the pandemic struck.
So they offered virtual tours of the studio and theater. They created videos with their 29 professional dancers to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary. They offered a virtual Day of Dance, too, when people could watch performances and try a few moves themselves (from the privacy of their living rooms).
“Of course, we’d love for it to be in-person the next time around,” says artistic director and CEO Erika Overturff. “But in a sense, we didn’t skip a beat.”
Up next: The ballet is ramping up several online programs, including a new series to premiere this fall. Find the details at amballet.org.
— Michael Morain, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs