Income loss to local entertainment venues arrived swiftly: the region’s peak season for events suddenly halted to zero as coronavirus precautions rushed in. Shock reverberated across performance venues, rocking local performers as well as artists who travel from across the globe to perform in Southwest Florida each year. But artists are innovative by nature, coloring outside the lines when it comes to creative outlets for their work.
“All of us artists must create,” declared Annette Trossbach, artistic director for the Laboratory Theater of Florida. “Actors must act. These times force us to find a new vehicle – social media, YouTube – instead of TV or stage. I see radio plays making a comeback, as well as Zoom or Facebook Live shows. We have a passion, a desire to perform and express and tell the stories of our generation.”
Last month, Laboratory Theater hosted a socially-distant reading of “Macbeth” featuring an international cast of Shakespearean-trained actors from Australia, South Korea, Netherlands, London, New York City, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, Florida, Maryland and Michigan – all reading from their home bases. The production forged new territory for Laboratory Theater with the challenges of securing production rights, dealing with differing time zones and internet services, and enlisting diverse actors from television, movies and stage.
The theater’s local cast is ready with virtual one-act plays, readings and improv during the month of May.
“We still need to make community connections; it will just be with this new vehicle,” said Trossbach.
Local singers and musicians have also had to adapt.
“Social distancing isn’t great for dancing,” said Billy Birch, half of the musical duo Billy Dean and Dawn.
The Estero couple is typically booked solid in early spring, but the lull of summer months has set in early. Billy Dean and Dawn were scheduled to perform at the Village of Estero’s 5th anniversary celebration (originally March 21), which, like everything else, was canceled.
“It’s sad being separated from the people you love,” Billy said.
The couple still live-streams worship each week for Naples Community Church. And they are keeping busy with arranging music and recording. They’ve talked about performing from a truck bed for a condo audience.
“Usually, we reinvent ourselves in the summer with new arrangements,” said Billy. “Summer came early.”
Milana Strezeva, artistic director and co-founder of the Grand Piano Series, maximized technology for her patrons by recording Zoom interviews with canceled international performers who offered virtual mini concerts like Paavali Jumppanen, who gave an interview from Lapland.
Strezeva also has started an Online Café for performers and fans of great piano music and art to drop in using Zoom.
“We’ll take the live conversation wherever it goes,” she said. “Let’s stay connected during this time of isolation.”
The canceled debut of Gulfshore Opera’s “La Boheme” at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, with a production cost of more than $180,000, is represented in two storage units containing all but the stars. It’s now rescheduled for Nov. 10.
Disappointment doesn’t stop Steffanie Pearce, general director and founder, who is sending email blasts with links to performance highlights from past productions. She also posts performances every three days on the Gulfshore Opera Facebook page and uploads a complete song on YouTube for patrons and opera enthusiasts to enjoy. Pearce says she’s exploring new ways to get people together musically, and top U.S. and international artists have offered to participate in a virtual fundraising concert.
“We’re in new territory,” mused Susan Bridges, president of Center for the Arts-Bonita Springs.
This includes not only virtual performances but also virtual voice and music lessons so learners can continue cultivating their talents.
“Our youth and adults are sensitive to the learning curve; they want to keep getting better,” said Bridges, who started a calling tree to ask members, “How are you doing?” A familiar voice from her or another staff member often brings comfort.
Krzysztof Biernacki, director of the Bower School of Music & the Arts at Florida Gulf Coast University said his instructors are meeting the challenge of teaching by internet to students accustomed to interaction, performance and ensemble.
As a professional opera singer, Biernacki sympathizes with those who earn their living through creative performance. Cancelled shows have robbed professionals of thousands of dollars in income potential. Some will teach. Others will work on their repertoires. All are seeking new, creative income streams.
When Florida Repertory Theatre canceled its performance of “A Doll’s House Part 2,” husband-and-wife actors Brendan Powers and Rachel Burttram turned a storage closet in their home into a tiny theatre for Facebook Live performances. They aren’t making any money from the effort, but they are having loads of fun while entertaining their followers.
“Instead of binging on Netflix or overdosing on social media, we had an idea…what if our playwright friends sent us scenes/plays/monologues to perform from the safety of our own home?” Burttram wrote on the Tiny Theatre Facebook page. Major playwrights from around the country were generous enough to lend the rights for plays and scenes — some never seen before and some with Broadway credits.
Lidia Black, executive director and CEO of Alliance for the Arts, has a growing playlist of creative activities. Members teach visual arts, music and dance online; some classes are paid, and others are free.
“Youth activities related to the arts are going online with home scavenger hunts and virtual exhibits,” added Black. “High school students will continue working on their portfolios, with the Future of Art exhibit now a digital competition. Online submissions allow for comments.”
Online art cafes, closet theatre performances and truck-bed concerts demonstrate the creative ingenuity of Southwest Florida’s arts community.
“We’re in this together,” said Black, “and we’ll come out the other side better.”
How to Support the Arts while Social Distancing
With revenues for live audience performances at zero, donations are gratefully accepted by local arts organizations. Visit their respective websites for giving information.
Enjoy these virtual offerings:
- Virtual performances by the Laboratory Theater of Florida: com
- Grand Piano Series Online Café: grandpianoseries.org
- Tiny Theatre on Facebook Live (Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 p.m.): com/ClosetAtRachelAndBrendans
- Gulfshore Opera video performances: gulfshoreopera.org/videos
- Access the Arts: live interviews with art icons, video performances and mini-tutorials on painting and drawing: artcenterbonita.org/accessarts
- Online art exhibits and classes: org
- Blair Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary wildlife live stream: com/vvj6z4h
Do you know of other virtual performances and opportunities? Let us know! “Submit News” at www.esterolifemagazine.com or post to the Estero Life Magazine Facebook page. We will gladly share!