Mendel Center, VPA go virtual, alter schedules so performances can go on
The show must go on. The saying has been a rallying cry for performers to take the stage regardless of obstacles for more than 200 years. But what happens when the show can't go on? What happens when performance spaces are closed because of a global pandemic?
"These are crazy times that we are in right now," Lake Michigan College Visual & Performing Arts Department Chair Kristopher Zook said. "We had this wonderful reopening for our beautiful new Hanson Theatre, and we were looking forward to giving it a real shakedown this spring. Then, everything got put on hold."
Safety restrictions put in place at the local, state, and national level to stop the spread of COVID-19 has meant the unprecedented cancellation and postponement of multiple performances for LMC's Visual & Performing Arts Department as well as both the Mendel Center Mainstage and The Economic Club of Southwest Michigan Speaker Series. With the Mendel Center closed to patrons, LMC faculty and staff have turned to online resources to offer some performances virtually, while rescheduling many others.
For the Mendel Center staff, that has meant the creation of the new online series, Remotely Interested. Using Facebook Live through the Mendel Center's Facebook page, patrons can enjoy scheduled live performances of local and regional artists from their home.
"We wanted to keep offering performances for the Mendel Center community, and that was going to have to be in a new format," Mendel Center Mainstage Director Grace Kelmer said. "But also, it was clear that artists were going to be severely hurting because they aren't able to perform live. We thought, here's a chance to give artists a paid performance opportunity while providing some entertainment for the Mendel Center's online community."
The series kicked off on April 1 with the Saginaw-based husband-and-wife Irish music duo Siusan O'Rourke and Zig Zeitler. The series also has featured well-known local musicians Dan Maxon, Mike Talbot, and Jack Adams as well as LMC alumni Masa Sekioka. Omir Geva, the creator of Aureum, the aerial acrobatic show initially scheduled for April 4, held a live Q&A on that date instead as part of the Remotely Interested series.
For the nine events held so far, Kelmer said that anywhere from 50-100 people watched each performance as it was happening. Because the performances are recorded and posted, however, they have been able to reach a much larger audience.
"The few days following a performance, we see those numbers skyrocket," Kelmer said. "Now, between a thousand and three thousand people have watched each of those videos after the fact because they continue to live on our Facebook page. It's proof for us that people want to watch things online, and I think that's being proven throughout the country right now. People are on their computers and streaming content more than ever before."
Alan Selvidge, the Coloma-based teacher, and musician who is best known as part of the Deep Fried Pickle Project, is the latest to perform in the series under the moniker A-1 Salvage (One Man Junk Band).
"It's great to play for people who may not have seen or heard about jug band music," Selvidge said. "LMC has a large audience, and I was excited to be given the opportunity to perform again. The days are all running together, and it helps to have something to look forward to."
Zook, meanwhile, said his faculty and students have been using Zoom and YouTube for everything from virtual voice lessons to class performance projects.
"Music students are doing a virtual recital. Our theatre students are doing their end of year showcase virtually," Zook said. "I think we're seeing a lot of innovative creativity that is just a little different than we have done in the past. It has stimulated a lot of new experiences that we might not have thought of."
While the Visual & Performing Arts Department has had to cancel a lot of performances, Zook said they are looking to reschedule the musical "The Pajama Game" to the fall, and are planning to offer a more streamlined version of summer camps in August.
"We are still holding on to hope that we will be able to reschedule some of these events," He said. "A lot of those things are up in the air. But we will be back, and we will make the magic happen."
In addition to scheduling an entirely new virtual series, Mendel Center staff also have been busy rescheduling performances canceled from the second half of its Mainstage season. To date, the four postponed Mainstage shows – Motown All-Star Spectacular, Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood: Scared Scriptless, STOMP, and Aureum – have all been rescheduled for the 2020-21 Mainstage Season. Both Brian Skerry and Henry Winkler also have rescheduled their speaker series dates. Malcolm Turnbull, the former prime minister of Australia, is the only speaker who has yet to reschedule.
"Once it was clear we were going to have to cancel events through March and April in that first wave, we went to those artists and speakers to reschedule," Kelmer said. "The last thing we want to do is cancel something outright. We all want to bring this to town, and they all want to come here. We started those conversations immediately to find a date that would work for next season."
While the announcement of the full 2020-21 Mainstage Series and The Economic Club of Southwest Michigan Speaker Series has been pushed back until later in the summer, Kelmer said the Mendel team continues to explore multiple contingency plans.
"It's tough to say what the next six or 12 or 18 months are going to bring," she said. "We have been working hard on ideas to make it safe and viable and comfortable and will continue to do that as the situation evolves. If we have to open the season under some social distancing protocol, we are looking at the possibility of a streaming option for some of those performances. But we do plan to announce those seasons. We are trying to be proactive."
Remotely Interested events to date:
• April 1 Siusan O'Rourke and Zig Zeitler
• April 2 Dan Maxon
• April 4 Omri Geva of Halcyon Shows' Aureum
• April 7 Sunny Wilkinson
• April 12 Masa Sekioka
• April 14 Jamie Marvin
• April 18 Mike Talbot
• April 23 Jack Adams
• April 30 Neil Jacobs
• May 21 A-1 Salvage (One Man Junk Band)
• Additional dates are announced on a rolling basis. Check themendelcenter.com/remotely-interested for the latest lineup.
Mendel Reschedule Dates:
• Oct, 25 Motown All-Star Spectacular
• Oct. 28 Brian Skerry (Speaker Series)
• Jan, 24, 2021 Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood: Scared Scriptless
• April 15, 2021 STOMP
• April 20, 2021 Henry Winkler (Speaker Series)
• May 7, 2021 Halcyon Shows presents Aureum
• TBD Malcolm Turnbull (Speaker Series)
• TBD LMC @ LMC (Living Room Series)
• The dozens of postponed community and LMC events are being rescheduled as we know more about the timeline and safety to reopen. Check themendelcenter.com/COVID-19 for the latest reschedule dates or cancellation announcements. When the Mendel Center does reopen, all events will be carried out in compliance with federal, state, local, and institutional guidelines for health and safety.