Virtual Programming Draws Audiences to The Wallis During COVID-19
As those in the theatre world know all too well, the show must go on. But in today’s world, where a global pandemic has forced the shut-down of gatherings, the show is continuing on virtually.
For the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (The Wallis) in Beverly Hills, which took steps to curate a list of artists who offer online performances, classes and talks in the weeks following March’s Safer at Home order, the impacts of COVID-19 have been dramatic.
“I think everybody in the arts world is struggling at the moment,” The Wallis’ Artistic Director Paul Crewes told the Courier. “Community for me, in the arts, has always been about sharing experiences.”
While the shared moments of awe, communal laughter and wonderment intrinsic to live performances, both for the audience and performers, may be on an extended intermission, The Wallis is actively working on innovative ways to bring content to audiences. Available online (https://thewallis.org/Streaming) are a bevy of performances created by artists who continue to produce works remotely.
“People are coming up with very interesting and unique ways to create the works,” Crewes described. “They want to share the work that they’ve created, and we help to share.”
The bounty of offerings for people to enjoy include musical and theatrical performances, podcasts, and virtual dance classes.
For Crewes, “The Encounter,” which was available on demand for free through The Wallis from May 15 to May 25, showed just how powerfully performing arts can also translate digitally. The original production by Simon McBurney, the star and creator, was mounted during Crewe’s first season with The Wallis at the 500-seat Bram Goldsmith Theater.
“It was brilliant in both formats,” Crewes described of the one-man show.
On July 12, The Wallis will live stream “Hershey Felder, Beethoven” from Florence, Italy. It will mark the second time the multi-talented performer will do a ticketed live stream event which will benefit The Wallis during this time of quarantine. All other programmed offerings from The Wallis since the shutdown began have been free.
Directed by Joel Zwick, Felder’s dramatic journey into the great German composer’s life will include a bounty of music by Ludwig van Beethoven, including excerpts from “Moonlight Sonata.” Felder, a talented pianist, is known for his nuanced portrayals of composers. Tickets ($55 per household) include access to the live performance which begins at 5 p.m. and an additional 72 hours of on-demand viewing access.
Crewes estimated that The Wallis sold around 550 tickets to Felder’s previous live stream performance when he took on the role of Irving Berlin this past Mother’s Day. “So, it was a full house,” he said.
In tandem with creating a new calendar of performances from January 2021 and beyond, Crewes said The Wallis is continuing to explore virtual avenues that engage the audience. Particularly given that no one knows quite how long the restrictions – and inherent dangers of COVID-19 – will sustain, Crewes said that figuring out the best ways to share content is of increasing importance.
One of the more novel offerings recently launched at The Wallis is “Fairyland Foibles,” which premiered June 27. Produced by The Wallis Studio Ensemble, which is part of GRoW at The Wallis, the digital soap opera/radio play offers a unique twist where the audience gets to have a say on how the plot develops. For 24 hours after each episode premieres on YouTube, viewers can vote on Facebook about how the fairy tale continues for the next two or three chapters. The 20-minute episodes air on Saturdays at 7 p.m. through Aug. 9.
“We felt very strongly that that was a piece we were missing,” said Madeleine Dahm, director of The Wallis Studio Ensemble. “Hopefully this creates more of a sense of connection for audiences to the work. For us it was really about trying to find this sense of connection.”
After the first episode, viewers were asked to determine which of the characters ended up in the dungeon. Dahm said the choice came down to one vote and then the Ensemble had less than a week to prepare the second episode.
“Essentially we have no idea. And then the writers have to rewrite that section or write it from scratch…and the actors quickly learn lines and have a rehearsal,” she told the Courier. “It’s a very tight process, particularly for the actor who has to take on a part and they’re not quite sure what they’re going to get.”
For more information or to check out a bounty of online performing arts offeringsvisit thewallis.org.