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Bob Goepfert: Loss Of Community

Should you be interested in knowing the state of live entertainment, the quick answer is - everything is either cancelled or postponed.  In fact, the notices are still coming in.    This week, Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown cancelled their summer season.  At SPAC, the Freihofer Jazz Festival, scheduled for June 27-28, was cancelled and the July 10 Dave Matthews Band concert was postponed until 2021.

Personally, I can’t distinguish the difference between cancelled and something being postponed for a year.  To me, it only means another thing that isn’t happening in the immediate future.  Perhaps the term offers hope that one day life will again be as it once was.  It’s a pleasant dream, but a dream nonetheless.  Things will never be as they once were.  911 taught us that lesson.

But the real question is - how do we celebrate the arts and entertainment in the present?  It’s been admirable to see the energy and creative nature of so many artists who are trying to form new ways to make and deliver their product. 

If you are satisfied with watching things digitally this is your Golden Era.  There is so much available through various streaming platforms you never have to lack something to watch. Whether it be theater, touring museums, music concert or lectures, everything is available – seemingly all the time.

Some of it is quite good.  The National Theatre in London has, for years, taped their final live performance of most productions.  They later aired it at movie houses and theaters throughout the world under the name NT-Live.  I used to watch them at the Spectrum in Albany. 

Now they are available on the National Theatre You Tube channel free of charge.  This week they are streaming “Anthony and Cleopatra” through Thursday.  It’s worth watching.   For me, the expert manner in which they tape the show makes it the closest thing I know to live theater.

If you are a fan of musical theater and an admirer of Stephen Sondheim, you must go to You Tube to experience “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration.”  Not only is it a star-studded entertainment filled with some of the best Broadway songs written over the past century, it is a great example of how new approaches can improve old formulas.

The Sondheim Tribute is recorded by performers alone in a private space.  There are no costumes, no exaggerated stage make up and the set is what appears to be the artists own living spaces.  This makes every segment extremely personal and intimate.  The environment contributes to  the performer’s admiration of the unique gifts of Stephen Sondheim.

I shouldn’t overlook the fantastic montage of the orchestra playing isolated from each other but superb cutting has it like ZOOM on steroids. It’s all wonderfully done and arguably the best tribute concert I’ve ever seen.

What helps make it so contemporary, is that the individual musicians and performers are each separated and yet, somehow connected.  It is, perhaps, a wonderful metaphor for the time in which we live and an example of how the arts can innovate in desperate times.

But still, I miss being a member of an audience.   There is a void - the absence of personal connection.  I crave the sense of having personal contact with the performers and the strangers who surround me in a theater.

Live performances are an experience unique to themselves.  Everything else is a substitute.  You can buy and listen to every cd produced by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead but it doesn’t equal the live experience of being at a live concert.

It is like so much in life that distances us from being part of a community.

I participate in a ZOOM Happy Hour that takes place weekly at the same time on the same day of the week.  And, like most happy hours, it’s never over in a hour.  My friends are four theater artists, filmmakers and educators.    It’s a highlight of my week.  We share the progress of projects we are working on, offer advice, pass on tips on worthwhile films or streaming shows and generally support each other.  There is more than a little childlike-guy bantering amongst us, and God protect the reputation of someone too busy to participate on any given week. .  It’s fun. I love it, and look forward to it.

But every week, I feel a touch sad that we aren’t doing it in person on the deck of Ryan’s Wake, our favorite Troy pub.  I long for the day we can be in the same space together and shake hands, or at least touch elbows.

This expresses how I feel about digital versus live performances.   I love and appreciate digital as a substitute.   But I can’t wait until I once again become part of a community of friends and even strangers. 

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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