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Saratoga Arts Organizations Share Lessons Learned From Pandemic

The stage inside UPH can be removed to accomodate different types of events
Lucas Willard
A stage inside UPH in Saratoga Springs (file photo)

Arts organizations in the Saratoga region are having a collective conversation about how to operate in a post-pandemic reality. 

During a virtual discussion Tuesday evening hosted by the Saratoga Arts Commission, the heads of local cultural organizations shared the lessons they’ve learned during COVID-19 and discussed the ways to move forward.

The pandemic has brought instruction in the classroom and studio to the virtual realm. And that also brings new possibilities for connecting students to artists and instructors around the world.

Beth Fectau is Saratoga City Ballet’s Artistic Director…

“I think the studio setting is going to change now. I think it’s going to be more technologically savvy to allow guest artists to be in the studio with you,” said Fectau.

Jill Levy, Artistic Director of Saratoga Chamber Players, said streaming can bring performance to a much wider audience, too, but that also takes some getting used to for the performers involved.

“It opens up this whole wider audiene from who-knows-where, but on the other hand, it’s really hard on the artists not to have the energy of a live audience there,” said Levy.

Unable to host a traditional summer season, Saratoga Performing Arts Center shifted during the pandemic to expanding virtual offerings, too. But Senior Director of Planning Chris Shiley says the virtual performance space has created a sort-of streaming fatigue.

“It’ll be here to stay, I think it will be an enhancement when you truly can’t make it, but I don’t ever see it replacing the real thing, that’s for sure,” said Shiley.

SPAC offered programming online, continued its focus on arts education, and worked to reimagine and explore its space and setting the Saratoga Spa State Park.

Universal Preservation Hall, an arts organization that opened Saratoga Springs just 10 days before lockdown last March, transformed its newly-renovated space in a former church from a performance venue to an exhibit hall. Teddy Foster is the director of UPH…

“You know, I’ve always claimed that this building can be anything anybody wants it to be. And we really started to play with her and see how adaptable we could be and things we could do. For instance, we had…we turned into an exhibit hall last summer for a couple of months. And we just figured it out. And even though we were only allowed to have 50 people in our building, we only allowed 20 people at a time,” said Foster.

Though restrictions are being eased for performance spaces, the panelists on Tuesday’s call were still unsure of what a summer arts season could look like.

And a big part of that is the question of how comfortable guests will be coming back together.

Eric Rudy is General Manager of Home Made Theater, which produces performances at the Spa Little Theater.

“We are actually in the process of putting together a survey to essentially ask that question. I think that’s what most of us are concerned with is, what people feel they are comfortable with,” said Rudy.

The pandemic has also given time for organizations to pause, rethink their own operations, and chart a path ahead that not only considers public health and safety, but long-standing cultural issues brought to the forefront through the Black Lives Matter movement.

All of the representatives on the call Tuesday evening where white.

Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, who chairs the Theater Department at Skidmore College, says the conversation around racial justice will also have an impact on the arts.

“And I’m excited about the ways in which we are thinking about new work, thinking about the ways we can support new voices, thinking about the ways we can support historically marginalized voices. And the ways – even as a predominantly white institution, and I’m a white chair – the ways in which we can collaborate and think through different ways to be responsive and responsible,” said Jackson-Schebetta.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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