Virtual arts events have helped keep summer sane

Nancy Kranzberg

By Nancy Kranzberg

My friends are worried about me. They know that my husband, Ken, and I normally … Ha! What is normal? We go out almost every night to a play, a poetry reading, a ballet, a music event, a museum and so on. How are the Kranzbergs adjusting to the new normal?

Well, my friends, we are just as crazy,  not nearly as happy with what’s going on in the world, but just as frustrated, as usual, with the wealth of what’s going on in the arts.All of our local arts venues are bending over backward to provide arts aficionados with alternative ways of enjoying the arts in all their diversity. We are constantly having to choose which virtual production to watch or listen locally and nationally. 

I’m going to list just a few of the wonderful webinars, Zoom productions and videos I’ve been indulging in. I’ll start with the wonderful book reviews that the always insightful Left Bank Books has provided. 

One of my favorites is a review of Vivian Gibson’s “The Last Children of Mill Creek,” in which she writes lovingly of growing up in a neighborhood that is no more. Left Bank will deliver books curbside.

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival aired SHAKE20,  a revival of the beloved community-based program, which included 20 nights of virtual Shakespeare plays. My favorite was Prison Performing Arts’ performance of “Me and Richard 3,” a take on Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” written by our very ownChristopher Limber, the artistic director of Prison Performing Arts. 

And leave it to Carrie Houk, artistic director of the Tennessee Williams Festival, who produced, “Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams on the Air,” presented by Classic 107.3 FM. It is a series of one-act plays by Williams, followed by commentaries by Tennessee Williams scholars.

The St. Louis Symphony is continuing to rebroadcast on St. Louis Public Radio, and I particularly loved the cocktail hour featuring conductor laureate Leonard Slatkin and bassoonist Felicia Foland, who discussed a Rachmaninoff concert before it was aired.

And I loved Opera Theatre’s livestreamed digital festival and special features, such as Tent Talks, an online series featuring acclaimed singers, musicians and creatives from the operatic world. Terence Blanchard, the Grammy Award-winning musician and acclaimed composer of “Champion” and “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” took my mind far from these crazy summer days. 

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had a wonderful series of webinars called “Curator’s Cut.” One of the episodes featured David Pullins, associate curator of European paintings, speaking about Diego Velazquez’s “Portrait of Juan de Pareja.” Pareja spent more than two decades of enslaved service in the Velazquez household before pioneering his own independent career as a freedman painter in the 1660s.

The St. Louis Art Museum featured a work of art from the museum’s collection on a daily basis. Each work would be seen with a concise description on my membership email. What a great way to start each day.

The Repertory Theatre of St Louis featured the play “The Cake,” which I thoroughly enjoyed watching. It was quite an experience being up close to the actors and watching it on my computer.

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) had an evening Zoom session for members entitled “Cocktails With the Curators” in which the curators spoke about current exhibitions.

“Jacob’s Pillow” is a dance center, school and performing arts center in Becket, Mass., and I watched a couple of ballets online as well as “The Men Who Danced: The Story of Ted Shawn’s  Male Dancers, 1933-1940,” a documentary by Ron Honsa that tells of the founding of “Jacob’s Pillow.”

Palm Springs, Calif., has a short film festival every summer and sent many videos of the films that were chosen and indeed many were very short and many were wonderful. The selections were shared digitally in their “The Best of the Fest” program.

The Muny had a series entitled “Muny Magic” and presented great songs by great artists online. This was a very enjoyable way to sit back and relax, as if I haven’t relaxed enough.

Of course, Laumeier Sculpture Park has been open for most of the pandemic, so we were able to take great walks while enjoying the sculptures Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Zoo have reopened as well. 

Now we are at a stage when art and culture venues are slowly beginning to reopen with very well monitored procedures in place.

The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries is having its third annual “Golf the Galleries” exhibition, where guests can play miniature golf in the galleries. The installation was designed by St Louis artists and architects.

The International Photography Hall of Fame has reopened, as have CAM and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Chris Hansen, director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, says, “We are taking a phased approach to reopening our venues and workspaces, following the guidance of public health and government officials. Our Phase 1 strategy is to reopen our workspaces, appointment-only gallery visits and outdoor venues for culinary and concert experiences.”

We attended a concert put on by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation called Backyard Jazz BBQ in a tent outside the Grandel Theatre  The tables were at least six feet apart. Everyone was masked until they ate or drank. When St. Louis jazz great Ptah Williams began to play. the tears started flowing down my face and wouldn’t stop.

There’s no real alternative to live arts in person. All my senses were stimulated, and I can’t wait until this menacing virus makes its exit.

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