BroadBand Welcomes Performance Arts Home

Wu Man (pipa) and Regie Gibson (literary performer) premiere their original new work:
From the Yangtzee to the Mississippi Delta | the acrosswater call of a stringborn song
Created for Latitudes, January 2021


Just as BroadBand Collaborative, a performing arts organization started by Sara Stackhouse (former executive producer of Actors' Shakespeare Project), Cristin Canterbury Bagnall (former general manager and executive producer to Yo-Yo Ma), and Lori Taylor (former director of learning at Silkroad, an initiative of Yo-Yo Ma’s that encourages cultural collaboration) were set for their big launch, COVID-19 hit. Live performance spaces closed down, audiences stayed home and artists were left wondering what to do next. 

Canterbury Bagnall reached out to her partners with an idea. What if they created an online environment that brought artists and audiences together in an online setting that was evocative of intimate settings like the warmth of a campfire gathering, the open air and green of a public park or the lived in comforts of a living room? Stackhouse and Taylor loved it.

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The Puppet Showplace Theater

The Puppet Showplace Theatre: Connecting During COVID-19 

Community is critical to how Puppet Showplace Theater approaches its work. Prior to the pandemic-related cancellation of live performances and workshops, Puppet Showplace welcomed anywhere from 200 to 1000 people a week from young children up to adults. Losing that daily interaction has been “a big loss” not just for Puppet Showplace employees, says the theater’s Artistic Director Roxanna Myhrum, but for members of the community as well. 

“Puppetry is for everyone,” Myhrum says, noting that it unlocks the “human capacity to imagine and build worlds of infinite possibilities.” 

Dealing with the financial losses from the pandemic have been equally challenging. A series of grants, government relief programs, and contributions from over 1,000 individuals have kept the organization going and it has been able to continue paying artists, something that Myhrum is justifiably proud of, considering the substantial losses that individual artists have sustained over the last year

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The Makanda Project

The Makanda Project: Connecting during COVID-19

Innovation and improvisation are the foundations of jazz, and versatility one of the greatest strengths of a jazz musician. It’s no surprise, then, that the Makanda Project, a 13-piece jazz ensemble, found a way to safely connect during the COVID-19 pandemic with carefully choreographed live events for small audiences that were streamed online to a wider audience of fans at home. 

This past summer and fall, the Makanda Project, which has performed free concerts in Roxbury since 2005, played four live shows at Bartlett Place that were broadcast in real time via Facebook Live. 

“We felt we were ‘threading a needle’—that there was a way to present the music in the community during the summer months, but that it had to be done just right so that we didn't jeopardize anyone's safety, including our own,” said John Kordalewski, the Makanda Project’s band leader and concert organizer/producer. “We felt it was our job, as artists in the community, to try to figure this out. In the end, we felt we had found our small opening and made the most of it, which was gratifying.”

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Worcester Chamber Music Society

Worcester Chamber Music Society: Connecting during COVID-19

The Worcester Chamber Music Society (WCMS) played its last major concert March 1, 2020. A crowd of 1500 filled the Hanover Theatre in the city’s downtown for the organization’s annual free famil concert. The performance featured Saint-Saen’s “A Carnival of Animals,” a collaboration between WCMS’ Neighborhood Strings, a music program for underserved youth, and the Hanover Theatre Conservatory Youth Ballet Company that saw 85 kids onstage sharing their talent with their community. 

“It was a huge event,” recalled Tracy Kraus, WCMS executive director and flautist. 

Days later, WCMS’s season came to an abrupt halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the organization barely missed a beat in ensuring their programming would continue to reach their students and their audiences. 

“The first thing we talked about was, how can we stay connected to our audience and to our community?” said Kraus. “For the last 15 years, it’s been our mission to keep people connected, and we're constantly exploring  new ways to do that. 

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The Arts Extension Service & Amherst Ballet

The Arts Extension Service at UMASS Amherst (AES) is a national arts service organization working to serve the arts through education, research, publications and consulting. It is the leading provider of Arts Management education and training in the U.S., offering the country’s only online Arts Management bachelor's degree, in addition to three online Arts Management Core, Professional and Leadership certificates and two Certificates in Arts Management for students on campus. AES also offers publications, research services, and training programs for state, regional, and local arts agencies. AES’ Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative, serves students and faculty as well as the region’s many artists and other creative businesses.

As one of few organizations dedicated to supporting the creative community, AES has served as an important clearinghouse of pandemic-related funding resources, employment opportunities, and other information for artists, venues, and arts organizations, which are suffering devastating financial losses due to health and safety restrictions on large indoor gatherings and live performances.

Meanwhile, students past and present are drawing on what they’ve learned in AES programs to continue creating, entertaining, and helping (mostly virtual) audiences make sense of this moment. Take, for example, Madeleine Bonn, an AES student and artistic director of Amherst Ballet.

Bonn was just months into her tenure as artistic director when the pandemic hit. In a recent interview, she credited her AES studies with helping her to remain grounded and for inspiring her creation of the The Social Dis-Dance Project, which commissioned short dance videos from dancers, choreographers, and artists to express their experience of the crisis and the social distancing orders that aimed to curb it.

“I missed dancing and being creative and I also missed connecting with people socially and I realized that a lot of people were going through the same thing,” Bonn said of the project’s genesis in an interview at the start of this video compilation of submissions. “So I really wanted to give mainly my students a way to stay creative and engage with dance and also a way for them to connect with their peers.”

She was surprised when artists from around the globe submitted videos for the project. Bonn’s lighthearted offering, “Pas de Toilet Paper” won a third place prize in the Music/Dance category of Amherst Center Cultural District’s Artist Contest.

In June, Bonn and Amherst Ballet’s board president created the short piece “The Butterfly Effect” which students performed virtually while in-person classes were on hiatus. Now, Amherst Ballet is offering both socially distanced in-person classes (limited to seven students per class, with masks) and virtual access via Zoom.

“Students have been enthusiastic to return to the studio and I feel there is a sense of renewed appreciation for being able to dance in a beautiful space, as well as gratitude for the connection we form with others in doing so,” said Bonn.

Aside from her work at Amherst Ballet, Bonn’s AES coursework this year will include Creative Community Leadership, which teaches students how to use the arts and the creative process as tools for social change, and the skills to do effective creative community collaboration and partnership development. It’s a timely subject as the pandemic and events like the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police have exposed and exacerbated racial and economic injustice, healthcare inequities and other systemic breakdowns.

As AES Director Dee Boyle-Clapp stated in welcoming students back to classes in the fall, each of us has an opportunity “in this moment of extreme change” to make an impact and keep each other “healthy and connected.”

“This is when the arts shine brightest,” Boyle-Clapp wrote, ”As they always have, artists and performers have brought unity and solace to people across the nation and around the world, and while many organizations are physically closed, arts managers have worked to connect the arts to audiences, no matter where they are located. Especially now, while we are physically distant, the arts connect us.”

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Boston Gay Men’s Chorus: Connecting during COVID

This weekend, WCVB Channel 5 will air “Home for the Holidays,” a 30-minute showcase of holiday songs from the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. The special production will feature past performances of beloved Christmas carols, festive favorites, and modern classics from BGMC’s holiday concerts intercut with scenes of local holiday traditions like ice skating at the Boston Common Frog Pond, BGMC’s international tours, and reflections from chorus members on the meaning and magic of the season and its songs. Hosted by BGMC Music Director Reuben M. Reynolds III with an introduction by Randy Price, the country’s first openly gay TV news anchor who recently retired from WCVB-TV after many years, “Home for Holidays” is the culmination of BGMC’s efforts to remain connected with the community despite not being able to take the stage to perform. 

“Like every other performing arts organization that had to cancel its spring season and all subsequent performances in 2020, we immediately began looking for creative ways to remain connected not just with our audiences, but also with our members,” says BGMC Executive Director Craig Coogan. “We have more than 200 performers and the chorus is much more than an outlet for creative expression. We’re family.” 

Just four weeks after the public health emergency was declared, BGMC released “From Our Homes to Yours—Everything Possible,” a virtual video dedicated to essential workers who are risking their own health and safety to ensure that people continue to have access to food and healthcare during the pandemic. The video has amassed over 100,000 views across BGMC’s social platforms. 

BGMC subsequently launched [email protected], a curated collection of new and archival digital performances that includes “Up on the Housetop,” playful rendition of the second-oldest secular Christmas song,” “Power of Protesting,” a montage of interviews with BGMC members describing their participation in Black Lives Matter protests to advance racial equity and justice, “Born This Way: Virtual Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, a virtual message of love for LGBTQ people of all ages who are struggling to feel connected amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “Celebrity Spotlight,” featuring never-before-shared archival content of guest performers Nick Adams, Laura Benanti, and Alex Newell, and the Member Spotlight video series, which showcases the diversity of the chorus itself.  

“Creating these videos has given the guys a creative outlet. We continue to meet via Zoom. Keeping up that connection is so important. But it’s also been important to keep creating. It’s essential to who we are and it’s what our audience wants from us,” Coogan says. “We know this because the response has been great. People are emailing us and leaving incredibly generous comments on social media about the videos.” 

Sample feedback? The LGBTQ newspaper Bay Windows recently editorialized that BGMC’s online offerings are making “life a bit more bearable during this interminable era of illness, death, cancellations, and closures.” And in its year-end issue, Boston Spirit magazine said that in 2020, “BGMC stepped up to deliver one powerful, thoughtful, timely video after another. 

Comments from fans in response to the videos include: 

  •  “Thank you so very much! Mom and I really needed this. Happy Holidays to you and yours!”
  • “Thank you for brightening our spirits!”
  • “Absolutely loved it! So creative and just plain fun!”
  • “I’ve missed your energy this made me smile.”
  • I love this series [Member Spotlight] and meeting all of the different people in your chorus.” 

But Coogan warns that arts, cultural, and humanities nonprofits can’t keep doing this alone. Referring to a recent survey by the Mass Cultural Council showing that arts nonprofits have sustained $478 million in revenue losses since March, Coogan says, “The arts are core to what people love about Boston and Massachusetts. All of us are working harder than ever to keep people connected. It’s what we do. But if we expect to have an arts community that is anything like what we had before the pandemic, we really need more help.” 

“Home for the Holidays” will air on WCVB Channel 5 on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 11:35 p.m. and again on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. The program will also be available to watch Saturday, Dec. 12 on MeTV at 5:30 p.m, YouTube at 8 p.m, and OnDemand via cable providers.

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Community Impact

The Drama Studio is one of a handful of youth theatres in the United States that offers quality, range, and depth in its acting training programs. For Springfield-area youth, the Studio's conservatory program offers an unusual opportunity for training that prepares its graduates (all of whom are college bound) to...