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Arts

With Audiences Outlawed, St. Louis Arts Groups Find Creative Ways To Perform

Allie Magee, marketing and communications manager for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, records an episode of "Shakespeare In The Sheets" with actors Mary Heyl and Hannah Geisz. Since this gathering at The Cheshire last week, festival artists are only contr
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

After local officials banned gatherings of more than 10 people last week, arts organizations scrambled to find ways to keep performing without an audience. 

Now the rules are even stricter. The stay-at-home orders that went into effect Monday in St. Louis and St. Louis County have arts groups reconfiguring those contingency plans on the fly.

The orders threw a wrench into a plan by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis to stage a livestream of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” tonight, after it had to cancel the remaining seven dates in a regional tour of the production. When word of the impending restrictions came down on Saturday, the organization moved quickly. It gathered the cast to record the show in advance, while it still could. 

Producing Artistic Director Tom Ridgely reworked the staging first, to keep actors separated while performing. 

“We wanted to try and keep physical contact to a minimum and social distance to a maximum,” Ridgely said.  

The festival will stream its recording tonight, rather than the live performance it had planned. But it will go forward with the rest of a series of online streams it announced last week, which its leaders crafted with social distancing in mind. 

A series of video shorts called “Shakespeare in the Sheets” depicts actors performing sonnets and excerpts of plays from bed. The “Cymbeline” touring company will also perform Shakespeare’s epic poem “Venus and Adonis” and readings from Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague,” with each actor located at home.

“We just knew gathering was getting to be less and less of a good idea all the time and wanted to keep it down to a minimum,” Ridgely said. “Everything else [after ‘Cymbeline’] will be totally remote, totally isolated like we all are these days.” 

Ben Majchrzak is seen at work behind the console at Native Sound recording studio in St. Louis. Majchrzak started an ad hoc grant program to funnel cash payments to musicians who are out of work because of coronavirus concerns.  [3/18/20]
Credit Virginia Harold
Following the stay-at-home orders, Ben Majchrzak, co-owner of Native Sound recording studio in St. Louis, is reworking his plans to invite bands to the studio for fundraising livestreams.

Musicians also are trying to figure out what to do. Some are scrutinizing the text of the separate stay-at-home orders to determine whether bands can still assemble for livestreams. 

Though they do not identify arts and culture organizations as “essential services” exempt from the prohibition, musician Brad Jackson said he sees some “gray area” in the new regulations and will proceed on March 29 with an online version of the weekly Americana show he had been staging at Off Broadway, River City Opry. Bands will each perform from one of their members’ homes. 

“There are things that I think need to be done to just increase morale. I think that arts, and being able to take in the arts, is an essential service. I know it keeps me sane,” Jackson said.

The usual, in-person River City Opry events are free for attendees. The online version will be free for viewers.

Many local musicians are looking beyond morale-boosting free performances and hoping to replace lost income from gigs that were canceled with the shutdown of bars, clubs and other performing venues. 

Ben Majchrzak, co-owner of Native Sound recording studio in St. Louis, was getting ready last week to let bands stream from the studio and collect funds from an online tip jar. 

“A lot of people are searching for, 'What can we do to make money and provide for rent and utilities, and basically continue our livelihood?'” Majchrzak said.

The stay-at-home orders have clouded his plans to invite bands to Native Sound and stream concerts while collecting funds through an online tip jar. He’s trying to rework the original concept and hopes to announce an amended version soon. 

In the meantime, he’s continuing to solicit donations to a relief fund for local musicians on the online fundraising platform GoFundMe.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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