The Future of Theater Spaces, PAAM, & Experiencing Art Again
Learn more about how theaters are preparing to reopen from Joe Allen of Harvard University and Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director of Barrington Stage Company, then the Provincetown Art Association and Museum opens their virtual exhibition, “Director’s Choice: In Memoriam: Napi Van Dereck.” Plus, thoughts from artists and art leaders on things they hope to do as Boston begins to re-open.
>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,
WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture
from around the region and the nation.
I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,
as we get closer to physically experiencing art again,
what will that look like?
>> I know more now about electrostatic sprayers
and air ventilation flow than I ever thought
an artistic person would need to know.
>> BOWEN: Then, a picture of Provincetown.
>> The best part of this collection
is that it's a true journey through Provincetown
in all its aspects.
>> BOWEN: Plus, artists on what they can't wait to do
as pandemic restrictions lift.
>> What I'm looking forward to most is touring.
Because we are a touring ensemble,
because we have a light footprint,
we can jump in and present
on, on almost a moment's notice.
>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.
First up, there have been many questions
about when, physically, we can return to the arts
and what that might look like.
Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires
has our first glimpse.
It's taking out seats, overhauling bathrooms,
and relying on doctors.
All for the curtain to go up in August.
Julianne Boyd, thank you so much for being with us.
You're the first one
when I'm back in the studio-- it feels so great.
>> Now, that's exciting.
Well, welcome back-- welcome home, again, right?
>> BOWEN (chuckles): Thank you.
Well, it's apt, I think, that we're talking to you here.
Because I talk to so many people who say
that they, with all of this uncertainty right now,
they don't see a path forward.
They don't know what the path forward is,
but you've made one at Barrington Stage.
Tell me what you're doing.
>> I really wanted to see if I could find a way
in the midst of all of this,
that, when the pandemic started, you know, not, like, plateauing,
but really reaching a bottom level,
was there a possibility to have people in the theater,
knowing there will never be always zero risk?
Never, not even when there isn't a pandemic.
But we could certainly minimize the risks.
So we immediately closed the smaller theaters,
because we were thinking of social distancing.
It's hard to social-distance
when you have small spaces, of course,
and we said, "What if we took out every other row?
"What would happen if we took out every other row?
What would the number be?"
The financial model should be a stage two model,
rather than a 520 seats, where we normally do,
like,Pirates ofPenzance, SouthPacific, On the Town--
these gigantic musicals.
Let's make it a stage two, and for now,
let's just say we had one performer on the stage,
because we want it to be as safe as possible
for the performers-- one performer,
and not a lot, and no backstage crew.
We wanted the performer to be totally safe.
We found a play called Harry Clarke,
a play that I've wanted to do for a while,
with an actor who's worked here, Mark Dold.
We said, "It's the perfect play.
It has no set, it has one costume."
"It has no set"-- it has the stage painted a certain color
and it has a deck chair.
No set to make.
And then we would have a lighting designer.
>> BOWEN: Then that raises the question,
do you have a sense of whether people are going to be
comfortable enough to go into the theater?
>> Well, that was the next thing,
and actually, I, I should say,
we really thought about that first.
Or concurrently with, okay, one actor on the stage is great.
So we said, "What, what's going to make people comfortable?"
First thing was, everybody has to wear a mask.
And then, how are we going to clean
and sanitize the theater?
So we realized that we had to, we had to buy,
we did all the research we could.
I know more now about electrostatic sprayers
and air ventilation flow than I ever thought
an artistic person would need to know.
So we bought two wonderful electrostatic sprayers
that spray the seats.
We actually bought it from a place here, in Lenox--
Zogics, which, they do sanitation
and disinfectants at hospitals and gyms.
So they were well experienced with this.
And then we said, "Okay, how about the air conditioning?
We need to change the amount of, you know, returned air."
You know, and so we decided, every night, we met with our,
we met with our company, and they said,
"You can, you can purge all the air, every night."
We said, "Fabulous.
"What about programs, what about tickets?
What about people coming in entrances?"
So we came up with three different entrances
for the three different sections in the theater, and no tickets.
I mean, people will go in, we'll take their temperature.
"Hi, welcome to the theater."
Two people go in, we wait a while.
Next two people come in.
We only have 163 seats with three entrances.
>> BOWEN: Well, I want to ask about that, because everybody,
again, that I've talked to so far--
and I'm glad that you're the outlier here--
has said, the moment you start
taking tickets out of the theater,
that wrecks our financial model, it's not doable.
>> Well, that's certainly true if you did the same shows,
but you can't do the same shows.
I mean, we, we were planning to doSouth Pacific,
you know, with 20-some people.
We couldn't do that with 163 seats.
But we can do one actor in a show calledHarry Clarke.
That financial model works.
This is not a financial model
that this theater could continue with.
I mean, we will not,
we could not have the staff we have,
we couldn't maintain our buildings.
But as a trial, to see if we can find a way
to start bringing people into the theater,
maybe other theaters can learn.
We're, we're already learning, like,
what would be the next step?
What else would we do?
>> BOWEN: Actors Equity, the union that represents actors,
has weighed in and said, you know,
most shows, there is some level of intimacy
that you're seeing on stage.
Actors are coming in close contact.
How do you contend with that, going forward?
>> You don't do those shows now.
I mean, it's, you know, I mean, common sense tells us
you're not going to do a show
where people are going to be kissing and hugging.
We just can't do that now.
It's sad, but it's the, it's a new norm, it's a new reality.
In the fall, for instance, we want to do a show,
Arthur Miller'sThe Price.
Fortunately, those four characters in the play
don't get along. >> BOWEN (laughs)
How does it feel to be one of the first,
if not the first, who's going out there?
I mean, are you nervous to, to do this?
>> Not nervous-- concerned, maybe.
The season is selling really well.
People want to get out-- Ann Hampton Callaway sold out.
We added a performance, that performance sold out in one day.
One day, it sold out.
>> BOWEN: Well, Julianne Boyd, it's great to speak with you.
It's great to be talking about theater
that's happening physically again.
Thank you for doing that, congratulations.
>> My pleasure!
>> BOWEN: I also recently spoke with Dr. Joseph Allen
at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He's the director of its Healthy Buildings programs,
and he's teamed with the American Repertory Theater
to develop guidelines for theaters going forward.
And we wanted to know what we need to know
about re-entering spaces.
Dr. Joe Allen,
thank you so much for joining us.
>> Yeah, thanks for having me,
appreciate it. >> BOWEN: So as we all
inch closer to this moment-- which is feeling more real--
as we begin to be able to think
about going into museums, theaters eventually,
and then concert halls, I know one of the big issues is,
is having people have the confidence
to re-enter these spaces.
So what do you tell people to look for,
museum patrons, theatergoers,
for healthy buildings?
>> We have to look for these cues
that tell us how seriously
these, these different organizations
are taking these protocols to keep us safe.
Um, it's really incumbent upon the organization
to communicate their strategy,
and to communicate it effectively,
because there will be things
that you'll be able to see, right?
You'll go in and you might see that they have, uh,
good signage, markings on the floor, where to stand,
their employees are wearing masks--
that'll tell you right away.
>> BOWEN: I know that a lot of arts organizations
are kind of in a panic about how much
they feel they have to do
to get their spaces ready for patrons again.
Is it manageable?
>> You know, I do think the risks are manageable.
We can always put in controls to keep people safe.
So while the pandemic feels really unfamiliar to all of us,
there are elements that feel quite familiar to me
in terms of, how do we take the science
of how we're exposed and how this is transmitted,
and align up appropriate control strategies
so we can reduce risk?
Knowing that there's no such thing as zero risk,
we can reduce risk to a level where people,
people can feel comfortable about returning.
>> BOWEN: I was on a call where you spoke to a lot of,
a lot of arts leaders within the city of Boston.
And as you started talking about systems and changing systems,
I know that there was a panic immediately
about, these are all nonprofit organizations.
Can they afford something like this?
>> Yeah, you know, I've been really mindful
that, in making recommendations since early February
on healthy building strategy-- control strategies--
to not make recommendations that people can't do.
Really, it gets down to the basics,
just like the basics of handwashing.
It's time for the basics of healthy buildings.
And it doesn't have to be expensive.
It's a misnomer that only shiny new buildings
can be healthy buildings,
or that these have to cost a lot.
Actually, it doesn't cost a lot.
In fact, upgrading your filters costs a couple of dollars.
>> BOWEN: Are arts institutions at all different,
given the volume of people who go through?
>> First, we start with that science
of, of how the virus is transmitted.
So large droplet, fomite-- or contaminated surfaces--
Then you line up the control strategies.
And there are definitely some challenges in theater,
like large numbers of people, right?
And these kind of choke points,
as people enter through security or ticketing.
How are you going to handle concessions,
or the bathroom at intermission?
That's where it really gets tricky.
>> BOWEN: You just mentioned bathrooms.
I understand those are actually really key
to the safety of buildings.
>> First, it's probably the one
people most likely think of, and that's,
you have a lot of surfaces that they can touch, right?
And so ideally,
you get to a no-touch or a touchless experience
in the bathroom, with the sinks and automatic doors,
and things like this.
The other one is this, we know that this virus
can be detected in stool, sometimes for several weeks
after the person has symptoms.
We also know, from other scientific research,
that when you flush a toilet, you generate bioaerosols
that can stay in the air for some time.
So we want to address that mode of transmission.
And the way to do that is to make sure
that your exhaust system is functioning in the bathroom.
You want air to move from clean areas,
like the hallway or the adjacent space,
into the bathroom and out.
>> BOWEN: There are a myriad other services that,
within arts institutions, too, that are revenue-generating:
restaurants, concessions, gift shops, bookshops.
Should those be operating immediately
as we start to move forward?
>> Can you stagger or increase the amount of time
that people have to enter?
Can you increase the intermission period?
Can you put on shows, maybe,
that don't have an intermission, that are shorter?
And then for concessions, can you re-imagine this in some way?
Maybe you order ahead of time, you know,
and you get to your seat and your, your, uh,
your chocolate and your, and your water
are just waiting for you at your seats.
So we don't have this crush happening,
and you have this occupant density
you can't manage.
>> BOWEN: You are working with the American Repertory Theater
to develop a series of frameworks that will be shared,
well, I guess, the world over, internationally,
so, so people can have a better understanding.
Is there a go to?
How do people decide
whether it's safe to open within,
because it is so region-specific?
>> Yeah, so we put out this road map
for recovery and resilience, we hope it's a good resource.
We have to have a slow and measured restart.
In fact, there should be a phased approach
for theater, just like for companies.
>> BOWEN: And finally, I don't know
what kind of an arts guy you are.
I assume you're something of an arts guy,
if you've partnered with the A.R.T.
But what's your own personal level of, of confidence
in going back into these institutions--
theaters, museums, what have you?
>> Yeah, you know, I'm, I'm, um...
I'm definitely, you know, I'm a consumer of theater.
I love it, my, my wife and I, my family and I love it.
As for myself, yeah, I would go back to these theaters
if these controls are in place.
Much like we talked about at the beginning of the interview.
I will be doing my own check, right?
Even looking ahead of what kind of messaging
are they sending out?
How are they communicating the control strategies
they're putting in place?
And when I get there, I'll assess it for myself, too.
Much like I would if I go get takeout at a restaurant.
There are some that are doing it really well right now,
and some I don't really want to go back to anymore.
And the same thing will happen with arts, theater,
you know, museums-- it'll all depend
on how they're communicating that messaging
out to the public.
But if they're doing it right, I'll go back, for sure.
>> BOWEN: Well, Joe Allen, excellent guide and advice.
Thank you so much for joining us.
>> Yeah, thanks for having me.
I appreciate this.
>> BOWEN: Next, until it can open,
the Provincetown Art Association and Museum
has a new exhibition online.
As the museum's C.E.O., Christine McCarthy, told me,
it's work from a larger-than-life collector
who assembled a wonderfully diverse portrait
Chris McCarthy, thank you so much for being with us.
It's great to see you.
>> Great to see you, too.
>> BOWEN: So just, part of what I learned about this exhibition,
one of the things that I loved about it,
was that, in a moment
where people don't want to travel so much
or might be reluctant,
you are taking them through Provincetown,
you're taking them through the Cape in this exhibition.
Tell me about it.
>> This exhibition is-- it's very special, it's...
It was the private collection of Helen and Napi Van Dereck.
And Napi, unfortunately, passed away on Christmas Day.
For those people who don't know Napi,
he owns one of Provincetown's most iconic restaurants
and probably was one of Provincetown's
most iconic characters,
having spent pretty much his entire life, um,
in this town,
but the best part of this collection
is that it's a true journey through Provincetown
in all its aspects.
So, for example, there can be one scene,
like, looking down Bradford Street,
and he'll have about ten paintings of the same scene.
These are 40 paintings and works on paper
that really trace a time...
It's like a time capsule through Provincetown,
and they're exquisite paintings, they're, they're...
A lot of the artists are well-known.
However, Napi had a real affinity
for championing, championing women artists
and those who are under-recognized.
So you'll see these, these paintings
and people that have no idea who these artists are.
So we're also introducing new artists,
new old artists, back into people's lives.
And his eye was exquisite.
>> BOWEN: It's one thing to have an exhibition of a place,
but this place is Provincetown,
which has been filled with artists for well over a century.
So... >> Yes.
>> BOWEN: What kind of art history are we seeing here, too?
>> You're seeing the very beginning.
The art colony officially launched in 1899,
even though we do know artists were here prior to that.
So I think we're looking at, the earliest paintings
in this exhibition
are, are, like, 1901, 1902,
and sort of carrying up through maybe 1940.
A lot of what these artists portrayed
doesn't really exist in Provincetown anymore.
Like, some of the piers have disappeared
or they've been, um, eroded or demolished,
and many of these homes have been renovated, so it's really,
if you had the time and you actually walked around town
to look at these, these scenes, you know,
you would see some things similar, some things different.
But the landscape, there's something familiar
about the landscape.
>> BOWEN: Going back to what you just mentioned a moment ago,
of what a great eye he had.
How did he see?
How did he collect these artists and these pieces?
>> Well, Napi's famous slogan was,
"The way it used to was."
Because he, he was very captivated with...
When he was a young boy here in Provincetown, or growing up.
And when you're rifling through this collection,
which-- there are over 300 paintings--
you get lost in the view,
because some are very realistic.
Some, the artists took license
to put things, or eliminate things.
But you, you get sucked into these paintings,
like, you feel like you can walk directly into these paintings,
or that you've seen that sky,
or you've seen that water or that rooftop.
And we've had, we had a big exhibition
of Napi's white line woodblock prints
But I thought to myself, "No, we need to have
"some kind of something that commemorates
how important this collection is,"
because it truly preserves
one of our main legacies in this town.
And so, I, I got access to, you know,
I, I'm very familiar with the collections,
but when I was thinking about what it should be,
it was "the way it used to was,"
and that kept popping into my head.
And so looking at these locations,
these white line woodblock prints that are just exquisite--
and that's a technique
that was perfected in Provincetown--
that you couldn't get a more Provincetown show
than what, what this is.
>> BOWEN: So this is new territory for you,
to have this exhibition online.
It's new territory for all of us,
to be experiencing art online as we are,
for however long we have to.
How has it been for you to present a virtual exhibition?
And how do people experience it?
>> I think this, this exhibition, in particular,
has brought people closer to Provincetown.
It gives them, you know,
people who had to cancel their vacations
or haven't come to one of, to a home here or something,
this helps them stay connected.
And it's helping us see in a new way
that digital should definitely become part of our content
moving forward, no matter what.
But we also still know that people are craving
paintings and pictures to see in real life, too.
>> BOWEN: So I've had, over the course of the pandemic,
a couple of the major museum directors from Boston
on the show.
You're the first smaller museum director that I've had.
What's the reality that you're facing,
having had this happen to you?
>> Oh, boy, well...
For me, I mean, because we're an art association, also,
we had a big members' show that had close to 300 paintings
that we were just about to open right before this happened.
The majority of those artists
have never even seen that exhibition.
And it's still up on the walls.
And I'm hoping that getting the green light in for phase three,
and we're able to open responsibly,
I, these artists
I want them to be able to see their work on the walls.
Like, for me, it's, it's not just, it's, it's the artists
that, you know, we've really tried to connect with,
but also our donors, collectors, the staff.
The not knowing and the uncertainty, I think,
has been the most difficult for all of us.
But we are still hoping that in the fall,
we can still launch a couple of our, our 2020 exhibitions.
Um, but that's the thing, we don't know.
And so everything changes everyday,
like the dates, the, the slots, you know.
So we're just,
we're trying to be as flexible as we can.
PAAM has survived the Spanish flu.
Or has, has been part of, and, and, you know, the Spanish flu,
the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, um...
The crash of '08, other crashes,
World War I, II-- I mean, this museum has weathered it,
and it's a tough institution.
And this town, you don't, you, you know,
you don't get more committed than this town.
And I think that there's no way that this-- our community,
our constituents, our donors, our board--
would ever want us to go under.
And I can't have that, either, and I, I do think
that the fact of, of the, of the way that we've all been
working so diligently together,
we'll come out of this somehow.
It's, like I said, it'll be a different, new normal.
But we're, we're going to be ready.
>> BOWEN: And before I leave you,
do you have a sense of when you might reopen?
>> Museums are in phase three.
I think that date was, like, June 25,
or something like that.
But we would definitely wait till after July 4,
because I just don't know how that's going to, how the...
If there are gonna be crowds or not.
So we're definitely hoping to open
with limited, timed, ticketless entry,
at, hopefully, in the beginning,
or mid-July is what we're shooting for,
and again, that's all dependent on the, how the phasing works,
what the CDC, the governor, federal, local,
but we also want to be able to still provide an experience,
because I know people are missing us,
and we're really missing them.
>> BOWEN: Well, Chris McCarthy, it's been great
to have you here, and I look forward to seeing you
back inside your museum, which...
>> (chuckles): Thank you, I can't wait to have you back.
Thank you so much. >> BOWEN: Yeah, thank you.
Well, with all the content arts organizations
are developing online,
we thought it was a great time to return
to our look at Arts This Week.
InState vs. Natasha Banina,
an incarcerated and possibly murderous young woman
pleads her case to you, the jury.
Zoom in Sunday.
The documentaryThe Painter and the Thief
explores the relationship between an artist
and the man who stole her paintings.
Coolidge Corner Theatre streams the film Monday.
(orchestra playing "Fall" from "The Four Seasons")
If you're all for "The Four Seasons,"
tune in to Handel and Haydn Society's new podcast,
meandering through Vivaldi, Bach, and more, Tuesday.
Friday marks the 150th anniversary
of an epic opera premiere.
The Valkyrie is the second in Wagner's four-opera Ring Cycle.
Chew over this for Saturday.
The Worcester Art Museum has issued a viral throwdown.
Bake, make, or just eat your way through pieces
inspired by the permanent collection.
As we discussed earlier, we are inching closer to the moment
when we'll physically be able to experience art again,
with many museums hoping to reopen in July.
To that end, back in March,
I started ending most of my interviews
with the same question: "What are you most
"looking forward to doing arts-wise
when we're able to be back out in the world again?"
Here's what the artists and the arts leaders had to say.
>> Well, you can imagine my first answer
is to see the art on view at the I.C.A.
that not enough people got to see when we had to close down.
So that's one thing.
Uh, and to see it with other people would be fantastic.
Um, I am so excited.
I didn't get to go see the Sargent show, um,
at the Gardner-- can't wait to do that.
>> There's nothing, nothing better
than being with designers and directors and actors
who are working on one thing to make it better.
And that, that is everything
to theater, theater people.
And so I'm just looking forward to being together again.
>>♪ O, Freunde
♪ Nicht diese Toöne ♪
American Modern Opera Company spends, um, August
in kind of our home, which is in the mountains in Vermont.
And I'm really, really hoping that one of the first things
I'll get to do is go there and just see all my friends.
>> I am most looking forward
to sharing experiences of art with others.
Uh, there is a certain kind of sharing
that's happening at the moment.
(chuckles): We're sharing in this moment.
But there's, there's a lack of intimacy,
there's a lack of directness, there's a lack of spontaneity.
And I think we're missing that a bit.
So bringing people into the space
and finding ways for people to share that
is something I'm personally looking forward to.
>> When people are allowed to come back out again,
they're gonna be excited to see theater.
I think that, potentially, if we're up
and able to run in the summer,
the summer in Boston could be super-exciting for theater.
>> Something I'm really looking forward to, I mean, is just
the, the idea of being able to give a poetry reading.
It is our right and our role
to remember those words scratched on a scroll
and to live them, to heal our nation whole.
We roll up our sleeves, we believe in the dream,
in these American stories and the glory of the struggle.
>> The ripple effects, I think, at this point
cannot even be entirely captured, because we don't
really know what the goalposts are at this point.
We don't know, um, what, what's our fall going to look like.
In moments like these,
you have to remember what your mission is.
Our mission is to serve our community with opera.
And that mission doesn't change.
The delivery and the programming choices might change.
And that is our, our job at this point, if you will,
to, to realize how, in this particular new environment,
do we best serve our community.
And tremendous great ideas are actually popping up.
>> So what I'm looking forward to most is touring.
Because we are a touring ensemble,
because we have a light footprint,
we can jump in and present
on a, on almost a moment's notice.
>> When day is not, oh, night,
oh, night, alack, alack, alack.
>> You know, something that I really, truly miss
is just looking at the art in our galleries.
>> I think the arts help us make sense
of things that don't make sense, right?
And in putting our stories in a form that we can share,
it's, it's, it's an incredibly important human endeavor.
This is going to be the story
that we keep telling over and over,
because we're gonna survive, right?
We're survivors, we're gonna,
we're gonna be fine.
And we're going to come out of this
and we're gonna want to tell and retell and retell
the stories about what we lived.
Sing, create, you know, make videos, um, um...
Make face masks, uh,
with your, with your artistry and with your skill.
Um, I'm looking forward to hearing
all the stories that come out of this.
>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, looking back atThe Age of Innocence.
The Edith Wharton novel turns 100.
>> I consider the novel to be, um,
in many respects, perhaps her most autobiographical novel.
>> BOWEN: And portraits of a pandemic.
A photographer looks inward.
Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.
Thanks for joining us.
And as always, you can visit us online
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
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