Keeping the arts alive during the Covid-19 crisis requires collaboration, creativity and a reliable high speed internet connection to participate in the myriad livestream events. With the pandemic-fueled lockdown forcing schools and businesses to close or operate virtually, these past five months have presented major challenges for community arts organizations.
“Staying in business while we’re not generating income, reaching out to the community without creating online fatigue, and not knowing when we can perform live again is keeping us in a state of limbo,” says Cindy Murray, executive director of 5-Star Theatricals, during a recent virtual roundtable meeting of area arts representatives.
Organized by Niki Richardson, director of TOArts, the online meeting of the minds provided a forum for leaders from local arts and nonprofit organizations to discuss the specific challenges posed by the pandemic as well as ideas for adapting to a new normal.
“The hardest thing is being in a state of limbo and not knowing what we can plan,” says Pacific Festival Ballet’s Artistic Director Kim Maselli, adding that directors usually plan their seasons two or three years in advance, so “it’s hard to stay in no-man’s land and keep morale up; not having any concrete answers has been challenging.”
The uncertainty created by the virus means the future is unknown, making planning presentations and live events extremely difficult.
“Are people going to come? Are we allowed to perform? Are people going to be afraid to perform?” These questions are at the forefront of Village Voices Chorale President Bonnie Hicks’ and others’ minds as they navigate these unprecedented times.
“We miss the community, getting together and doing the art that we all love,” says Hicks, noting that Village Voices Chorale has been training singers and entertaining audiences since 1969.
Young performers are also feeling the pain of cancelled performances, notes Phyllis Rautenberg of the Thousand Oaks Philharmonic.
“The disappointment among the student performers who have worked so hard on their music” is understandable, says Rautenberg, adding that the Philharmonic is “trying to work out a way that maybe they can perform in 2021.”
Dedicated to their heartfelt missions of providing students the opportunity to participate in the arts, local organizations are determined to overcome obstacles and continue serving the community through high caliber arts programming. While in-person events and performances have been put on hiatus—the City of Thousand Oaks announced the BAPAC will remain closed for live events until January 2021—alternatives are being offered via Zoom and livestream events.
“Since March, the BAPAC staff has been tirelessly working through every possible scenario for reopening, all the while ensuring the health and safety of our audiences, artists and staff,” says BAPAC General Manager Jonathan Serret. “We’ve considered a wide variety of factors for a reasonable timeline to reopen and it became clear to us with restrictions and limitations on capacity and not knowing when live events will be allowed to resume that there is no reasonable way to open before 2021. Should health officials become more optimistic about a safe timeline to resume live events, we will work as quickly and safely as possible to open sooner.”
“We’re waiting to figure out what guidance will be given to the county and the state, waiting for that green light so we can all get back to doing what we love to do,” says Serret, adding that although the performing arts center will not hold live events with audiences, the theatres may be used for potential filming and streaming opportunities without live audiences.
The Show Must Go On
Adapting to Covid challenges entails moving to the virtual arena for most arts organizations. Programs from music lessons to performances and fundraisers have moved online via livestreaming platforms, such as Zoom and Facebook Live. The ability to go virtual allows students and teachers to interact with one another without the safety concerns of meeting in person.
Debbie Siemer of the Music Teachers Association of California, for example, provides one-on-one music lessons for students via Zoom.
Acknowledging the “huge learning curve required in learning how to use Zoom and the expense of acquiring the necessary equipment to achieve better online sound,” Siemer points out the silver lining of the circumstances.
“I’ve discovered how capable the students can be. When necessary, they can independently mark their own music and set their own metronomes. It’s also nice to be able to see the students’ home piano and meet their pets. And I no longer hear ‘Oops, I left that book at home!’” She adds that this online format also presents opportunities for teachers and students to continue their lessons remotely should a student move out of state or if they’re not well enough to come to a lesson in person. “Remote lessons provide an option when in-person lessons are not possible. I do see a hybrid future for us,” predicts Siemer.
The online format also opens up a world of options for students, says Rautenberg. “As summer camps throughout the country are all online, kids can go to these camps without traveling… many are taking advantage of this opportunity.”
Providing online summer classes for children allows 5-Star Theatricals to “stay engaged with the kids,” says Murray, noting their (virtual) free masterclasses and past show reunions have been well-attended and their online summer classes quickly filled to capacity. “Parents and teachers are reaching out and it shows how much we love our arts,” she adds. Continuing its service to the community, 5-Star Theatricals provided a video to stream into rooms at senior centers featuring last year’s Starlight Kids performance. “We can’t get in there; we encourage anyone to help senior centers,” says Murray.
At California Dance Theatre, alumni participate in a curriculum offered on Zoom, and the company has created a YouTube channel for dance classes and archived past performances.
“Quite honestly, dance and ballet are different than music—you need space to do your craft,” says Maselli. “Our dancers’ wings have been clipped to a certain degree, and they will do anything to get up, put their dance clothes on and move—it shows the hearts and soul of the artist, and for those that are serious, nothing is going to stop them.”
The Kingsmen Shakespeare Company also shifted gears from its usual live summer performances, holding a virtual opening night in June. And the New West Symphony overcame technical difficulties and learned how to offer online programs and classes, including music imagery and mindfulness, virtual concerts celebrating Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, and a fundraiser featuring a “battle of the sections” with patrons contributing to their favorite team.
“It was a fun competition,” says New West’s Natalia Staneva, adding, “We started talking about creating experiences and stopped talking about Covid.”
Looking forward, arts organizations plan to maintain their programming through digital options and creative new forms of engagement. Virtual events in the works include festivals, camps, classes and presentations.
“Teachers have been remarkably creative in the opportunities and options they’ve given to students,” says Cindy Goldberg, executive director of Conejo Schools Foundation. “It’s been amazing to see the creativity of both students and teachers.”
Through its virtual summer camps, Kingsmen Shakespeare Company offers students expanded opportunities to work “more one-on-one with people from across the country,” says Executive Director Tim Hengst, noting that numerous students have expressed interest in helping with their junior apprentice program. “Many students want to work online helping with virtual summer camps,” says Hengst.
The Conejo Youth Orchestras plan to hold video auditions and possibly one-on-one in-person interviews and small rehearsal groups, in anticipation of its 60th anniversary celebration, says Executive Director Cheryl Marvin.
Support from patrons is key to the success of these organizations’ new endeavors, and nonprofits have been encouraged by the generosity of Conejo Valley residents.
“People are being very generous, sending in checks to help support the arts,” says Murray. “Conejo Valley is just a spectacular community.”
Connecting with members and collaborating with the community is essential to keeping the arts centerstage.
“I do hope that everybody embraces the arts,” says Murray. “The artists have really stepped up; it’s the artists and the arts that’s keeping our souls alive during this time.”
As the community awaits the return of live performances, Serret is optimistic.
“Rest assured, when we do get the green light and get to reopen, we have a plan. When we get that opportunity to do what it is we love to do, we are ready.”
Support Community Arts
Bank of America Performing Arts Center One of the largest performing arts centers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, BAPAC is funded through a unique public/private partnership between the City of Thousand Oaks and Thousand Oaks Arts (TOArts). It consists of the 1,800-seat Fred Kavli Theatre for the Performing Arts and the 394-seat Janet and Ray Scherr Forum Theatre, which combine outstanding arts and entertainment with state-of-the-art technology and acoustics. Historically, over 200,000 patrons and 50,000 schoolchildren attend more than 300 performances annually. BAPACThousandOaks.com
California Dance Theatre & Pacific Festival Ballet Since its inception in 1994, Pacific Festival Ballet has worked to create a strong tradition of civic support through public performances, local outreach and children’s educational programs. As resident ballet company of the Bank of American Performing Arts Center since 2001, PFB makes dance accessible to a wide range of people and continues to give aspiring dancers trained at its official school, California Dance Theatre, an opportunity to perform on stage with seasoned professionals while entertaining audiences of all ages throughout the years. PacFestBallet.org
Conejo Schools Foundation The Conejo Schools Foundation mobilizes resources and partners with the community to protect, strengthen and grow quality educational experiences for all CVUSD students. ConejoSchools.org
Conejo Valley Youth Orchestras In its 60th concert season, the organization aims to inspire youth through Classical music. CVYO.org
5-Star Theatricals (formerly Cabrillo Music Theatre), the Ovation Award-winning Resident Musical Theatre Production Company of the Bank of America Performing Arts Center – Thousand Oaks, is a nonprofit theatre organization providing an extraordinary performing arts experience through live, Broadway-quality productions of musical theatre for more than three decades. 5StarTheatricals.com
Kingsmen Shakespeare Company In its 24th season, the organization is dedicated to presenting professional programs and performances of the works of William Shakespeare for the education and entertainment of people of all ages. KingsmenShakespeare.org
Music Teachers Association of California Incorporated in 1897, the organization promotes excellence in the music teaching profession through high standards for membership, strong ethical values, and continuation of musical education to cultivate personal, professional, and artistic excellence. MTAC.org
New West Symphony Inspires passion for symphonic music through live performances and education initiatives that engage and enrich our diverse audiences. NewWestSymphony.org
Performances To Grow On Uses performing arts to enhance education curriculum. PTGO.org
Thousand Oaks Arts TOArts provides fundraising and programmatic support to the Bank of America Performing Arts Center at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza with a vision to ensure arts thrive for all. TOArts presents headline shows, grants performance credits to local nonprofit arts groups to reduce the rent at BAPAC and brings over 3,000 kids a year to see a live production at no cost. TOArts.org
Thousand Oaks Philharmonic The Organization provides opportunities for young artists in Ventura County and its surrounding areas to perform with a professional orchestra in front of a live audience. It provides educational and culturally enriching experiences for the communities it serves. TOPhil.org
Village Voices Chorale A spirited community chorus for adults who love to sing, the 60+ voice chorale delights listeners with a wide variety of music from Classical to Broadway and Contemporary. Founded in 1969 as a nonprofit, the organization makes financial contributions to support vocal school music programs and provides scholarships to students majoring in voice. VillageVoices.org