IF ANXIETY IS THE ESSENTIAL CONDITION of intellectual and artistic creation, we’ve had plenty of motivation.
Nothing focuses awareness and artistic discipline like a crisis. And isolation, for all its impediments, can be a boon to creativity. At least that was the hope as we entered, and are beginning to emerge from, a time of strict social distancing.
And as Charleston-area arts groups begin to surface, however tentatively, from our collective restrictions, it seems the hope was well-founded.
From the Gaillard Center’s Lowcountry Listens, a free live-streaming series featuring local emerging artists, and “Spoleto at Home” to Chamber Music Charleston’s virtual recitals and the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s recordings of previous performances on YouTube and Facebook, online and social media content began to blossom as early as late April and has only grown. Hopefully, outdoor concerts may soon be in the offing.
As far as live theater companies are concerned, the immediate future remains a bit murkier. Some, like Charleston Stage, have shut down operations entirely until the first of the year, and others are working on contingency plans to resume live performances should they get the official go-ahead.
But the word everywhere is “caution.” Typical of the challenges faced by theater companies is that of the Village Repertory Company downtown.
“We have been busy at the Woolfe Street Playhouse trying to figure out what each day looks like for theater,” says Keely Enright, Village Rep director. “Right now, as the city begins to open up, our actors are very excited about [the prospect of] weekend performances at the theater this summer, with greatly separated tables and strict safety standards, including reduced attendance by 50 percent.
“But we must open to survive. We will be offering various low-key productions as we move into mid-summer and have reconfigured our upcoming season offerings, which will mean producing smaller shows than we had originally planned for our 20th season.”
Fall’s MOJA Festival, an annual celebration of African American and Caribbean arts, is still assessing its status, due largely to the suspension of operations at the Dock Street Theatre until 2021 and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of the Charleston Music Hall, which, aside from MOJA, typically offers an annual array of performances by touring national acts.
For its part, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is looking ahead to next year, working with the Gaillard and others to consider alternative plans and programming for the 2021 season.
“Patron and musician safety is our main priority,” says CSO concertmaster Yuriy Bekker. “Our orchestra is Charleston’s orchestra. We want to be there for our community, and we will find every possible way to bring music to Charleston.”
For some, the days are filled with writing new material for original productions down the line. Meanwhile, online content still dominates. The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art has postponed its summer and fall physical exhibitions in favor of virtual exhibitions, including the 10-week 10/10: Reflections on a Decade of Exhibitions, while the Charleston City Gallery and Gibbes Museum of Art continue to present an assortment of virtual tours. As for private, for-profit art galleries, creative rethinking of video exhibitions and online catalogs are the norm.
More than a few arts companies, not least those that also offer training classes, have been busy seeking out alternate funding, since their earned income streams have been disrupted and they are faced with the daunting, if unlikely, prospect of having to refund tuition and pre-sold show tickets.
After peering into a financial abyss, we may or may not have turned the corner on the economy, but our survey of the Lowcountry arts scene offers encouragement. The mood
is one of uncertainty, but trending hopeful. *
Bill Thompson covers the arts, film and design.