What works, what doesn’t, and what’s amazing
Certain experiences cannot be replicated in the virtual world. We’re learning this, as museums, orchestras, theaters, and other arts organizations pull together some kind of programming in spite of being closed to the public for more than three months. We’re also learning that artists will create, no matter what, and that the facilities that support them will find a way to bring that art to audiences.
The most basic presentation is an online version or recording of the live experience: the virtual exhibitions and the theatrical and musical performances that stream online. Of these, the virtual exhibitions are the least successful. It must be that you really need to be inside the space and stand in front of the artwork. Or it could be that the software used to move viewers around the gallery is often a bit clunky (even headache-inducing). One art lover commented on Facebook that “I usually end up looking at the gallery floors.” As for streamed concerts and plays, these can be great, depending on quality and the interest and commitment of viewers. And that varies wildly.
Up close and personal
Some of the most touching and inspiring virtual art experiences are the ones that replicate what the viewer is also experiencing—being stuck at home. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra stopped performing months ago, but individual players have been taking to YouTube and Facebook Live to perform—usually, short pieces. Some of the players are quite ambitious, taking on multiple parts in the same piece and blending the parts online. The players appear in casual garb—not pajamas!—sometime with pets appearing with them. Follow #PlayOnBPO on Facebook or YouTube to sample these delightful videos. One of our favorites: Associate Principal Bassist Brett Shurtliffe using a roll of toilet paper to help hit the notes in Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan.” “Stay strong, Buffalo,” he concludes. “And don’t forget to wash your hands.”
Artists off the cuff
The Burchfield Penney Art Center offers an abundant cornucopia of online options—it’s even changed its website name to Burchfield Connects—including a series of videos that “check in” on various local artists. The one with—by far—the most buzz is AJ Fries’s hilarious chat with his wife Karen Eckert. The artist, pipe in hand (he does not smoke a pipe), discusses a toilet paper still life he’s currently engaged with in his temporary basement studio. See this and more at burchfieldpenney.org. Hallwalls curator John Massier has accumulated more than thirty “Virtual Studio Visits” with various artists associated with the art center; all can be accessed at hallwalls.org.
Although there are hundreds of plays and musicals to watch online, most for free, the COVID era-specific presentations tend to be shorter and more personal. MusicalFare Theatre offers a series of one minute Q&As with actors via its Facebook page, as well as longer performance clips. Kavinoky’s Facebook page features a series of Kavinoky Klean handwashing videos with actors. And Torn Space Theatre created a sound performance to be downloaded by audience members and experienced in spaces chosen for their personal significance to each participant. Entitled Passage, the experience will be familiar to those who have attended summer Torn Space events at Silo City. Though this offering took place in late May, try tornspacetheater.com; it can likely still be accessed. Bottom line: if your favorite theater is dark, go to its Facebook page; you’ll find something fun to watch and you will definitely be offered a chance to donate. Do it.
We can’t imagine what the eventual experience of physically attending museums, galleries, theaters, and concert halls will be like whenever it is possible, but we’ll adapt. And it will be amazing.