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Pivoting to Models That Are New or Interesting

Pivoting to Models That Are New or Different

Third Edition February 1, 2021
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At a time when gathering inside theaters is not possible, the A.R.T. and the Healthy Buildings Program are considering designing alternative experiences that are responsive to public health concerns in both their content and form. The ultimate goal is a full return to theater; in the meantime, however, we are imagining new models and a phased approach to reopening. These projects may include outdoor experiences, hybrid modes of performance, drive-in events, and digital delivery. This roadmap will expand to include more information about these models in forthcoming editions.

Recent Updates

Third Edition February 1, 2021

Online Work

While the A.R.T.’s facilities were closed to the public in keeping with safety regulations, fall 2020 saw the launch of several new digital programming streams for the A.R.T., with audiences tuning in from all around the world. This work included both full productions and several new discussion series.

Virtually OBERON, which will continue in spring 2021, makes work by local poets, musicians, circus artists, and other performers available digitally. In fall 2020, the A.R.T. shared archival footage of in-person performances of Sara Porkalob’s Dragon Mama, Kit Yan’s Queer Heartache, and Justice Ameer and Chrysanthemum Tran’s ANTHEM, while broadcasting new works by Oompa, The Boston Circus Guild, Houseboi, Brandie Blaze, Anjimile, and Kaovanny, all filmed and edited in partnership with The Loop Lab. For more about these shows, and the safety protocols that made them possible, see Rehearsal and Production.

Other productions released in November and December 2020 included Jack and the Beanstalk: A Musical Adventure, a world-premiere family musical written, performed, and filmed remotely by Harvard undergraduates, and This Is Who I Am, a new play by Amir Nizar Zuabi co-presented by five theaters across the US and performed live for each show. For information about upcoming digital productions, see our Shows & Events.

A new series of digital discussion series brought audiences into conversation with A.R.T. artists and Harvard Scholars. The Lunch Room, broadcast at 12PM on Tuesdays, is a virtual talk show featuring the artists, activists, and civic leaders who are shaping our culture and communities. Civically Speaking offers a dynamic series of virtual conversations, lectures, and performance events on history, politics, justice, and the meaning of democracy. Finally, Behind the Scenes discussions invite A.R.T. audiences to meet the directors, writers, and composers currently making new work with the A.R.T. and to experience songs and scenes from the projects they are developing. In addition to these events, The Wellspring, a partnership with the Harvard Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, offers free wellness workshops to foster connection and well-being in this period of social isolation.

These digital series will all continue in spring 2021, joining a lineup of additional full productions.

Outdoor Experience

As a next step in pivoting to different models of performance, the A.R.T. is exploring the possibility of creating an outdoor experience at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, a 281-acre landscape and living museum in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods of the City of Boston. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted with a guiding set of principles that include a strong belief in the essential benefits of parkland to urban health and democracy, the Arboretum has remained open to the public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a space to safely and responsibly be outdoors and connect with the natural world. The Arnold Arboretum is the only cultural organization in Boston free and open to the public every day, and over two million people have visited the grounds since March 2020.

A collaboration with the Arnold Arboretum and the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this project would be created in the context of gradual recovery from the pandemic. Rather than gathering audience members in one space, we are considering a promenade experience that takes advantage of the vast landscape of the Arboretum in order to respect social distancing guidelines, with audiences listening on headsets or phones to newly written poems, scenes, and stories recorded by actors from Greater Boston, across the country and around the world, and to music and soundscapes composed specifically for this journey. Depending on disease dynamics and city, state, and federal regulations, we may also be able to consider adding live performance components to the experience. We imagine the project as an opportunity for audiences to experience a safe theatrical event that celebrates collaboration, community, and biodiversity.

Building on past collaborations between the A.R.T. and the Arnold Arboretum that most recently included Diana Oh’s Clairvoyance: The Tree Planting Ceremony, this project would also be designed to promote public health by amplifying the Arboretum’s invitation to access urban greenspace and spend time outdoors. As William Friedman (Director of the Arnold Arboretum), Joseph Allen (Director of the Healthy Buildings Program) and Marc Lipsitch (Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics) co-wrote in a Washington Post article: “Study after study has shown that time spent in contact with nature has important and positive psychological, indeed neurological, effects on the mind.”

In January 2021, the A.R.T. convened an online roundtable discussion with directors, designers, writers, musicians, public health experts, and other creative thinkers to share experiences and begin to develop an approach to this project that includes central themes of public health and environmental justice. As we move forward with this collaboration, we will be sharing our process of preparing and producing this experience.

Healthy Buildings

This roadmap is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as a set of directions. Please see About the Use of This Resource for further explanation.

Above, Diana Oh and audience at Clairvoyance Closing: The Tree Planting Ceremony: Natasha Moustache.