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How The Pandemic Is Changing The Way We Experience Art

Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett, Sally Murphy, Laila Robins, and Stephen Kunken (clockwise) in the livestreamed world premiere of the Apple Family Play, What Do We Need To Talk About?, written and directed by Richard Nelson. Photo credit: courtesy of The Public Theater.
Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett, Sally Murphy, Laila Robins, and Stephen Kunken (clockwise) in the livestreamed world premiere of the Apple Family Play, What Do We Need To Talk About?, written and directed by Richard Nelson. Photo credit: courtesy of The Public Theater.

What gives art meaning? What impact does physical distancing have on our consumption and appreciation of art, both performance and visual?


Helen Molesworth, curator-in-residence at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Former chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. ( @AndersonRanch)

Melinda Lopez, playwright, performer and artist-in-residence at the Huntington Theatre Company. Adjunct assistant professor of playwriting at Boston University. ( @huntington)

Richard Nelson, playwright and director of “ What Do We Need to Talk About?” which is streaming free on the Public Theater’s website and YouTube channel.

From The Reading List

The New Yorker: “ The First Great Original Play of Quarantine” — “There’s been ample time, during the past few endless weeks, for a person who misses theatre to think about what theatre gives us that’s different from what we get from other kinds of art and performance. We have television to entertain us, movies and books to sustain us. What can plays do?”

Howlround: “ Reaching One Audience Member at a Time” — “The Huntington Theatre Company is a large LORT theatre in Boston, Massachusetts. When we closed in-person operations on Friday, 13 March, we were a couple of days away from technical rehearsals on a world premiere play. While executive leadership and many staff members were focused on keeping the theatre in healthy shape to reopen, the artistic staff started to do parallel work about how to serve our communities of artists and audiences during the shutdown.”

Washington Post: “ A play premieres online — and it couldn’t be more relevant to how we are right now” — “Theater in exile does not mean a world without ‘theater.’ That much is clear after the premiere on Wednesday of Richard Nelson’s riveting new drama, ‘What Do We Need to Talk About? Conversations on Zoom.’ In 60 lyrical minutes, author-director Nelson and five veteran stage actors show us how potently a digital conferencing platform can work as a space for a play.”

WBUR: “ There Is Nothing Mala About ‘Mala’ — A Superb Broadcast Of Melinda Lopez’ Superb Play” — “If you were looking to put a face to the growth and vitality of the Boston theater community you might just pick Melinda Lopez. Long a fixture as a charismatic local actor as well as a budding playwright in the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre pipeline, Lopez was chosen by the Huntington Theatre Company to open the Calderwood Pavilion in 2004 with her riveting drama about Cuba, ‘Sonia Flew.’ It represented a shift on the part of the Huntington from a New York-centric view of the theater world to one that recognized Boston’s pool of acting and playwriting talent as well.”

New Republic: The Minimized Life” — “For the majority of us, consuming art is a destination appointment. Museums and galleries put on physical demonstrations of an artist’s importance, arduously assembling exhibitions of figures like Hilma af Klint or Agnes Martin, so that we non-collectors can experience the auratic objects as they are meant to be, in person. The wavering gridded lines of a Martin canvas or Klint’s color-saturated abstractions are most striking directly in front of you. There’s a sense of devastation in seeing galleries closed since mid-March, when major American cities went into lockdown. Without the public infrastructure of curators, exhibitions, and openings, so much of our context for understanding art disappears.”

Vulture:What Socially Distanced Live Performance Might Look Like” — “Just off Columbus Avenue, a self-appointed DJ pulled up to an extra-wide sidewalk and greeted the weekend by blasting salsa from his car stereo. A small crowd gathered to dance at a distance, bringing some safety-rated joy to the neighborhood. It wasn’t a packed club or a raucous street party, like the kind that birthed salsa decades ago, but it felt like a sign, an early crocus announcing the rebirth of live entertainment.”

The Conversation: “ The importance of art in the time of coronavirus” — “People are dying, critical resources are stretched, the very essence of our freedom is shrinking – and yet we are moved inward, to the vast inner space of our thoughts and imagination, a place we have perhaps neglected. Of all the necessities we now feel so keenly aware of, the arts and their contribution to our wellbeing is evident and, in some ways, central to coronavirus confinement for those of us locked in at home. For some, there are more pressing needs. But momentary joys, even in dire circumstances, often come through the arts and collective expression.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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