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S48 Ep20

The Arts Interrupted

Premiere: 5/14/2021 | 00:00:30 | Closed Captioning Icon

Take an inside look at how arts organizations nationwide are surviving the pandemic and how they are maturing during the country’s reckoning with systemic racism, featuring interviews with artists and performances made during lockdown.



About the Episode

Great Performances: The Arts Interrupted
Premieres Friday, May 14 at 9 p.m. on PBS, and the PBS Video app

How have the arts been managing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Arts organizations across America share their survival stories, along with examples of innovative performances, from COVID-19 inspired theater to site-specific operas. Learn how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have impacted America’s emerging artists in this new documentary hosted by GRAMMY, Emmy and Tony nominee Vanessa Williams.

#PBSForTheArts is a multiplatform campaign that celebrates the resiliency of the arts in America during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and reopening, and features new performing arts content filmed within the constraints of the pandemic. The collection of #PBSForTheArts programs will be available for broadcast on PBS and streaming on and the PBS Video app. Curated conversation and digital shorts will be available on PBS social media platforms using #PBSForTheArts.

Featuring interviews with:

  • Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, Executive Director, Dance/NYC
  • Anne Huang, Executive Director, World Arts West
  • Danny Burstein, Tony-nominated actor, “Moulin Rouge”
  • Janice Sinden, President & CEO, Colorado Center for the Performing Arts
  • Jordana Leigh, Senior Director of Artistic Programming, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
  • Kamilah Forbes, Executive Producer, Apollo Theater
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr., GRAMMY-winning performers
  • Maure Aronson
  • Oskar Eustis, The Public Theater
  • Ralph Remington, Director of Cultural Affairs, San Francisco Arts Commission
  • Simone Eccleston, Director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music, Kennedy Center
  • Somi, Composer & Musician
  • Stanlyn Brevé

Featuring performances from:

  • Ballet X (Pennslyvania)
  • The Cast of “Moulin Rouge” (Broadway)
  • The Cast of “Wicked”
  • The Juilliard School
  • Michigan Opera Theatre
  • Renée Fleming & Vanessa Williams
  • Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal
  • Scott Patterson
  • Somi and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Germany)
  • The String Queens (Dawn Michelle Johnson, Élise Sharp, & Kendall Isadore)
  • Yo-Yo Ma (Massachusetts)

Produced and directed by Akisa Omulepu, Great Performances: The Arts Interrupted is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC. Great Performances is produced by The WNET Group. Bill O’Donnell is Series Producer and David Horn is Executive Producer.

Major funding for Great Performances: The Arts Interrupted is provided by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Jody and John Arnhold, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, The Starr Foundation, the Seton J. Melvin, the Estate of Worthington Mayo-Smith, Ellen and James S. Marcus and PBS


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♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: Next, on 'Great Performances'... During pandemic times, how have performers survived the arts interrupted?

OSKAR EUSTIS: I went into the hospital on March 12 with COVID.

And when I came out five days later, the theaters were shut down and it's been shut down ever since.

ALEJANDRA DUQUE CIFUENTES: The way in which arts and dance and cultural workers make a living disappeared with it.

DANNY BURSTEIN: We've missed the exchange of dialogue.

We've missed love on a very deep level.

I think what I miss most is that sense of community that can only show up in that exchange of storytelling between artist and audience.

(vocalizing) VANESSA WILLIAMS: Isolation and harmony, fragility and resilience, oppression and hope.

These are the emotions of our time.

I'm Vanessa Williams, your host for a look at how performers during the pandemic survived the loss of the arts.

ANNOUNCER: Join us when 'Great Performances' explores 'The Arts Interrupted.'

♪♪♪ Good evening, and welcome to 'Great Performances.'

I'm Vanessa Williams.

Like all live theatrical events, 'Great Performances' looked very different this past year.

I'm at home.

Unlike you, my seats are numbered because the theater is my life.

And right now, I'm seriously missing the live theater experience.

WILLIAMS: Broadway stars Jane Krakowski, Daniel Dae Kim, and others introduced special encore presentations of their shows from their homes.

Good evening, I'm Daniel Dae Kim.

Welcome to 'Great Performances,' and tonight's 'Broadway at Home' presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'The King and I.'

WILLIAMS: 'The Grammy Salute to Music Legends' was produced in dozens of different locations and all remotely.

- ♪ Time after time ♪ WILLIAMS: Stars appeared on Zoom for 'Movies for Grownups.'

Let me be the one to congratulate you on your big award here.

Just tell me what it means to you, George, to be recognized by the A.A.R.P.

CLOONEY: I suppose the most important thing I could say is thank you very much to all of the people and to A.A.R.P. for this distinguished honor, and I can use the word 'distinguished,' because you have to be distinguished to be in A.A.R.P.

Scott Yoo invited us to 'Now Hear This' with the orchestra socially distanced.

YOO: A once-in-a-lifetime feat today was every performance for the genius that was Mozart.

I'm Scott Yoo and I hope you can 'Now Hear This.'

(playing softly) WILLIAMS: And a new 'Romeo and Juliet' was performed in a theater, but not on stage.

♪ ♪ All performing artists were forced to adapt to a new way of reaching audiences when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world and the lights turned out.

Tonight, I'm coming to you from New York's legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Again, things look very different.

Although I'm feeling right at home onstage, the seats here at the Apollo, like seats in most theaters around the world, are empty.

This special edition of 'Great Performances' will take you on a journey through the events of this past year that brought us here.

We will never forget 2020.

From the COVID-19 crisis to the Black Lives Matter movement, with its rallying cries for social justice, it was a year that profoundly changed our lives.

It's also how art and performance inspired us, keeping us going through the dramatic highs and the devastating lows.

While ghost lights, like this one, kept burning in theaters, artists have pointed us to an even brighter light-- the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our journey begins with a question: What do you do when the lights go out?

We'll find out together.

But first, let's go back to what so many of us call the 'before times,' when the arts were in full swing and Broadway saw the debut of a much-anticipated musical, 'Moulin Rouge.'

(fingers snapping) ('Lady Marmalade' playing) The opening night of 'Moulin Rouge' was one of the most exciting nights of my life.

I've been in 18 Broadway shows.

I've never experienced anything like it before.

There's, there are so many different people who contribute to a Broadway show: costume designers, lighting designers, set designers, painters, the stage hands... They're artists in their own way.

You walk into that theater and everybody is on the same page.

This particular company was very close, and it's also easily the most talented group of people that I've ever worked with: actors, singers, dancers-- people who could do anything.

SATINE: ♪ Suddenly the world ♪ ♪ Seems such a perfect place ♪ - ♪ Come what may ♪ - ♪ Come what may ♪ BOTH: ♪ Come what may ♪ (holding note) ♪ ♪ ♪ Come what may ♪ (song ends, cheers and applause) WILLIAMS: But then, the applause stopped.

(applause stops abruptly) March 12, 2020, just hours before the curtain was to go up on the matinee performance of 'Moulin Rouge,' performances were canceled.

The show became ground zero for COVID, as 25 members of the company, including leads Danny Burstein, Aaron Tveit, and Karen Olivo, contracted the virus.

And on that same night, all of Broadway went dark.

We've missed community.

We've missed the exchange of dialogue.

We've missed love on a very deep level.

And that isolation, I'm hoping, you know, abates very, very soon.

WILLIAMS: The Metropolitan Opera closed, along with Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note, and across the country, the Kennedy Center, the Troubadour in Los Angeles, comedy clubs, concert arenas, and nightclubs-- every place where performers unite a group of strangers with their unique talents-- shut their doors.

To me, it was like the opening episode of 'The Walking Dead,' because I went into the hospital on March 12 with COVID, and I was actually in the hospital when the theaters shut down.

And when I came out five days later, the theaters were shut down and it's been shut down ever since.

It took me probably longer than it should have to recognize that this was going to be a long haul, and every step along the way, um, it has posed new challenges.

The impact has been immeasurable, devastating an entire industry with financial losses in the billions.

Likewise, support industries were also hard-hit.

Restaurants and bars, both in New York's Theater District and near performance venues around the country, shuttered.

Most performers make barely enough to survive, and now their day jobs in dance studios and gyms were also gone.

KAMILAH FORBES: So the pandemic has truly rocked the artistic community, um, not only from the institutions.

I mean, we saw immediately overnight that we're facing eight, close to $8 million in revenue losses, like, within the blink of an eye, when we had to close our doors.

But truly, who really became impacted were the individual artists.

We in New York City, being a city that is so dense in activity for dance and the arts in general, but also so dependent on a international audience and on a healthy local audience, when the city shut down, the way in which arts and dance and cultural workers make a living disappeared with it.

When the shutdown happened, every single person who worked in the New York theater-- every artist, every actor and designer, director-- was instantly a hundred percent unemployed.

Everybody lost their jobs.

The nonprofit theater had the additional issue... We had a staff of about 250 people, and all of our earned income vanished overnight, and trying to figure out how to live up to the responsibilities that we had to our staff, as well as to the freelance artists who make up the bulk of our workforce, um, was incredibly challenging and difficult.

So, what did they do when the lights went out?

Brilliant, creative people were not to be held back.

No matter what the challenge, singers gotta sing, actors gotta act, and dancers got to dance.

('The Music and the Mirror' playing) So they dance in the streets.

♪ ♪ Artists forged on, finding new avenues for their amazing gifts.

Performers surprised us in a different way.

And played music in their living rooms.

♪ ♪ (singing in Spanish) ♪ ♪ (singing in Spanish) ♪ ♪ WILLIAMS: Leave it to performers to invent new ways to touch our emotions.

(distant applause, objects clanging) (car horns, applause) (singing operatically) We were inspired by the 7:00 clap and how we could really charge our community to stay strong.

And so we called on artist friends and we did a social media campaign, which was called 'Humanity in Concert.'

Hi, Roseanne Cash here along with John Leventhal.

Thanks to Lincoln Center for putting this together and inviting us.

Um, we wanna dedicate this song to the maintenance crews and cleaning crews at all the hospitals across New York City and across the country, actually.

They, um, risk their lives right along with the healthcare workers.

- Amen.

- We really appreciate them.

This is a traditional Scottish song called 'The Parting Glass.'

(playing slowly) ♪ Of all the money e'er I spent ♪ ♪ I spent it in good company ♪ ♪ And all the harm I've ever done ♪ ♪ Alas, it was to none but me ♪ ♪ And all I've done for want of wit ♪ ♪ To memory now, I can't recall ♪ ♪ So give to me the parting glass ♪ ♪ Good night and joy be with you all ♪ ♪ Of all the comrades e'er I had ♪ ♪ They are sorry for my going away ♪ ♪ And all the sweethearts e'er I had ♪ ♪ They wish me one more day to stay ♪ ♪ But since it fell unto my lot ♪ ♪ That I should rise and you should not ♪ ♪ I gently rise and softly call ♪ ♪ Goodnight and joy be with you all ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Goodnight and joy be with you all ♪ (song ends) While performers had to find new ways to share their work, New York's Public Theater was one of the first to put that work in front of an audience.

Playwright Richard Nelson reunited the actors who had portrayed his fictional family the Apples in four earlier plays for a brand-new play, created specifically as a Zoom production.

Oskar Eustis found it difficult to contemplate this at first.

- That's just the starting point.

- You know what it's about. - Actually, I don't.

- Richard, it's people telling each other stories while they wait out a plague hundreds of years ago in Italy.

EUSTIS: I spent about two weeks after I got out of the hospital in this ridiculously self-righteous theatrical pose.

'We are a theater company, we're not a film studio.

'We're not a television station, we're not a radio station.

'We will produce theater again when audiences can come together and we won't be,' and it was just a joke.

It was a terrible response.

And after about two weeks, I realized that essentially what I was saying is that, 'Well, as long as there is a pandemic, I'm relieved of the obligation of fulfilling our mission.'

And of course, that isn't true.

Just because there are really difficult circumstances doesn't mean we get to stop trying to fulfill our mission.

The first idea that came to me was Richard Nelson's idea of bringing the Apple family back together to do a Zoom play.

And Richard came up with this idea within two weeks of the pandemic hitting.

And it led to our first digital production, 'The Apple Family's What Do We Need to Talk About?'

- All right, this week I was Skyping with Gideon, with my friend at Bard, and a writer friend of his, and we're commiserating about canceling the play this summer.

- The musical. - Right, so they were, they were trying to figure how to do something to keep going, do theater somehow to just kind of, you make the point that we're not done, we're not finished. - Mm-hm.

- So we quickly, we think of something like this, what, you know, what we're doing on Skype or Zoom.

We stream it, we put it on YouTube, it's... You know, they're not the same, of course, but it shows that we are not giving up.

So, what to put on?

I suggest, maybe, 'Skin of Our Teeth'? - I don't know that.

- It's sort of about the end of the world.

- Oh, that's a good idea. - (chuckling) EUSTIS: And I'm so proud of that show, because Richard is an extraordinary artist who brought together this company of actors who he had worked with over a decade and created the Zoom play.

The play wasn't a film of a play.

The play was a Zoom call, so actually was the medium that it was transmitted in.

And it was seen in 37 countries, all 50 states, I got fan mail from Kazakhstan.

It was a fantastic success and was the beginning of our digital efforts, which have continued to this day.

Innovation and experimentation was to be found all over the country, in theaters and concert halls large and small.

Away from the biggest cities, the arts, tourism, and community often intersect-- in places like Great Barrington, in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, where one theater company made a valiant effort to still put on a show.

Oh, yeah!

♪ Oh, bless the Lord, my soul ♪ ♪ Oh, bless the Lord, my soul ♪ IVETTE FELICIANO: Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the stage actors' union, Actors' Equity Association, has only approved two theaters to resume live performances in the U.S.

Both of them were in the Berkshires.

The first was Barrington Stage Company, which staged the one-man show 'Harry Clarke' in early August.

The second, Berkshire Theatre Group, is now performing the musical 'Godspell' through September 20.

The actors in Berkshire Theatre Group's 'Godspell' talk about their dilemma at the beginning of the play.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away everything I worked my whole life for.

I felt alone, abandoned, unessential, and just completely unnecessary.

My entire business relies on human connection.

When theater shut down, so did I.

What this time has showed us is that, how resilient our artistic community is.

And how creative, even in their own lives, artists are.

The resilience of our artists and our performers is amazing.

They have, at every turn, figured out ways to lean in, whether it's through virtual programming through the classroom in our education outreach or whether it was finding ways to do play readings, workshops, lots of heavy work thinking about what the future of theater is.

And there's been lots of engagement and telling the stories of the people in our community, and there's no one better than local artists to really depict those, those tragedies, as well as those stories of resiliency.

When we think about artists and their role in society, and we think about what we cannot return to, is, we cannot return to seeing art as simply the thing that we engage with when we have a little expendable income.

This moment has definitely been, um, a prime example of the democratization of art.

The Kennedy Center really leaned into the fullness of its identity as the nation's performing arts center and the nation's cultural center.

Since many major arts organizations also have an education mission, they quickly identified the unique challenges that come with in-home learning.

Many stepped up to help fill the gap between schools and students under lockdown.

The first thing we did was, we ended up doing pop-up classrooms, um, which were performances and concerts for kids, and those were performances really geared towards young people, because we realized parents were at home and that their kids all of a sudden didn't have school, didn't have that structure that they were relying on, so what could we do to support our community immediately?

For this next part, I want everybody to join in.

I think you all should beatbox with me.

Hold on, I promise you, it won't be hard.

We're gonna start off using two words: boots and cats.

We're gonna go slow and speed it up.

On a count of four, here we go.

One, two, three, four.

WILLIAMS: The lessons introduced kids to diverse art forms, from beatboxing to playing guitar and singing in Spanish.

- I'm Sonia De Los Santos, welcome to 'In Casa Con Sonia.'

(singing in Spanish) WILLIAMS: Once more, performers turned to emerging technology to share their talent.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ For every challenge, there is a solution, and with every crisis, there's an opportunity to shine.

This crisis provided a chance for artistic innovation.

Performers and their companies refused to be hampered by barriers and created new forms of performance: dance on a video screen, virtual theater, and even opera-- in a Detroit parking garage.

Hi, I'm Yuval Sharon.

I'm the artistic director for Michigan Opera Theatre and I'm the director of 'Twilight: Gods.'

I am delighted to welcome you to this performance.

It is a performance in which you are a very active participant in the event.

This is how you're gonna be experiencing the opera: behind the wheel of your own car, because you will be driving from level to level of the parking garage to see the scenes on each individual level.

WOMAN: So... Siegfried is dead?

Siegfried is dead.

♪ Build his pyre ♪ ♪ Like a strong grove ♪ ♪ The riverbank ♪ ♪ Now a pile ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ WILLIAMS: Let's see the visual ingenuity of a ballet performed by real dancers with animation.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ WILLIAMS: Let's enjoy the dazzling ensemble of the Juilliard School with their unique performance of Ravel's 'Bolero.'

(playing 'Bolero') ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Young artists found ways to perform on all kinds of social media, from Instagram and Facebook to YouTube and TikTok.

ENSEMBLE: ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ Home again ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ Home again ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ (singing warm-up) ♪ Spend a day warm on the sand ♪ ENSEMBLE: ♪ I bet you that sand is hotter ♪ - ♪ I bet you on land they understand ♪ ♪ Bet they don't reprimand their daughters ♪ ENSEMBLE: ♪ I bet they don't do that ♪ - ♪ Bright young women ♪ ENSEMBLE ♪ Oh, yeah ♪ - ♪ Sick of swimmin' ♪ WOMAN: Run, run, run, run, run, tendu, derrière, fifth.

Plié and stretch, plié and stretch.

Glissade, royale, glissade, royale.

Glissade, royale, glissade... ('Attack' by KERIMKAAN playing) (woman vocalizing) ('From Now On' from 'The Greatest Showman' playing) ♪ From now on ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ And we will come back home ♪ ♪ Home again ♪ Maintaining a performing arts career is a daunting proposition, even in the best of times.

This past year, it seemed inconceivable for a relatively new artist to gain recognition.

So, it must have been an unexpected thrill for singer-songwriter Somi to learn of her first Grammy nomination.

With it, the world was introduced to a brilliant artist who, I have a feeling, is here to stay.

♪ I can't hold these burdens anymore ♪ ♪ Love feels like a holy room ♪ ♪ Washed my feet ♪ ♪ Leave 'em at the door ♪ ♪ Your love feels like a holy room ♪ ♪ Soothe my sorrows and clean my heart ♪ ♪ Holy room ♪ When I found out I was nominated for a Grammy, um, of course I was overwhelmed.

I was really humbled by the outpouring of love, kind of honoring that moment, sort of a landmark in my career and a reminder to keep going-- that's what it felt like.

But I think the fact that the nomination came in in the midst of a global pandemic, um, was even more humbling.

Somi's Grammy-nominated album started out before the pandemic, as a concert for German public radio, recorded in May 2019.

Once the pandemic stopped artists from touring or performing, Somi realized she could offer her fans something new and timely.

(vocalizing) ♪ ♪ (vocalizing) SOMI: I decided to call the album 'Holy Room' because in listening to a live recording in the midst of a pandemic, when I first heard it, I had no intention of releasing it as an album, but it had been recorded for radio broadcast in Germany.

And so when I was listening back, it took me back to that thing that makes me feel most alive.

And I thought that if I was to share... If I were to share that with my audience, then surely they might be reminded of leaning into the thing that makes them feel most alive, too.

(vocalizing) ♪ ♪ WILLIAMS: For Somi, like so many artists, there wasn't just a loss of income or career opportunity, but also the joy of performance.

Performing with other artists, connecting with audiences just disappeared almost overnight.

I think what I miss most about being on the road is the sense of community that can only be fostered not only on the bandstand with my band members... (chuckling): Who I miss dearly.

But also that sense of community that can only show up in that exchange of storytelling between artist and audience.

I feel my most powerful on stage.

And I miss the magic, you know.

(applause) Thank you so much, danke schön.

(applause) WILLIAMS: In the past year, we've all learned that a stage can be almost anywhere.

So, Illinois-born Somi, whose parents hail from Rwanda and Uganda, with a Grammy- nominated German radio concert, still found a way to let her fans hear some new music.

World music indeed!

♪ ♪ Somi has reached a whole new audience in these strange times.

But she's not alone.

The COVID age has revealed so many new stars for us to appreciate.

- ♪ ...left unchanged ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ It's so funny how quickly ♪ ♪ We forget the sweet... ♪ Artists comment on, critique, and often challenge the culture itself.

They bring new ideas in fresh forms, they force us to think differently, and they interpret the events of our times in ways that enlighten us all.

So, that was a big assignment during lockdown in the Year of the Plague.

As COVID raged on, another crisis engulfed America.

♪ When the moon is in the seventh house ♪ WILLIAMS: Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., married for 50 years, were two-fifths of the Fifth Dimension R&B and pop ensemble.

In April 2021, they released a new album, 'Blackbird,' Beatles songs with a new relevance, they say, in the context of the racial reckoning and the Black Lives Matter movement.

('Blackbird' playing) ♪ Blackbird fly ♪ ♪ Blackbird fly ♪ ♪ Blackbird fly ♪ DAVIS: Many people don't know 'Blackbird' was a Civil Rights anthem, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon in 1968 after they saw the Civil Rights struggles and resulting violence.

♪ Blackbird singing in the dead of night ♪ DAVIS: Blackbirds were a hymn to the soul of the young women, men, and children we were losing.

McCOO: Martin Luther King.

Malcolm X.

Medgar Evers.

We remember the cross being burned on the lawn of our first home.

♪ Blackbird singing in the dead of night ♪ ♪ Take these sunken eyes ♪ ♪ And learn to see ♪ ♪ All your life ♪ WILLIAMS: Marilyn and Billy have long musical and political memories.

The Fifth Dimension had an inclusive and diverse 1960s audience, even at a time of racial division and political turmoil, some of which they witnessed firsthand.

It was 1968.

We were performing at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

At that particular time, somebody threw a stink bomb, cleared out the whole place.

Once we got outside, to our surprise, all hell had broken loose.

(people shouting) We were trying to get to our car, to get into cars so we could get out of harm's way.

(people shouting) We'd never seen anything like that before, because it was like a riot in the middle of the street.

I mean, all of this commotion going on.

- On Michigan Avenue. - On Michigan Avenue!

You know, and, and the things that's happening out there today, I mean, it's like it's all happening again.

♪ Set sight on pride ♪ ♪ For the power ♪ I'm going to channel James Baldwin, right?

And so he has this quote, you know, 'The role of the artist is much like the role of the lover.

'If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you do not see.'

And so I like to think about that in relationship to this period, because this period has been a time of tremendous change.

We've been in the midst of two crises, right?

When we're thinking about the public health crisis, as well as the crisis in regards to race and racism in America.

(crowd chanting, clapping) And our movement for social justice.

And so, like, within this context, artists have helped to bring light to the darkness and have helped to hold us accountable, and get us privy to the things that sometimes history would like to have us forget.

(crowd chanting, drum pounding) EUSTIS: George Floyd's murder had a transformational effect on The Public Theater.

Were we doing enough to oppose the horrible racism of this society?

Were we doing enough to oppose police violence?

But even more important: were we doing enough as an organization to examine our own practices, to make sure that our own practices were genuinely anti-racist?

To make sure that the way we worked actually tackled the horrible legacy of slavery upon which this country was built?

♪ One message ♪ ♪ No life in hatred ♪ ♪ Live for all kind ♪ (holding note) ♪ Yeah ♪ ♪ ♪ There's no denying that the past 14 months have been a time of immense sadness and loss, of dreams deferred and, for some, dreams shattered and impossible to realize.

In addition to losing jobs, workplaces, and the irreplaceable spirit of collaboration, we've lost something far greater: beloved and much-admired colleagues.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ECCLESTON: I would definitely consider this to be a moment in which the arts are further democratized, right?

And I would also, you know, like, I think that it's beautiful that audiences nationally and internationally have been able to, you know, tap into or access performances by world-renowned artists in the comfort of their homes.

What we were able to do is turn the Kennedy Center Opera House, a venue that is often only seen during Kennedy Center Honors, into, like, what would be the backdrop for performance.

And so we presented presentations with Renée Fleming and Vanessa Williams and, like, Grammy Award-winning artist Robert Glasper.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ MAN (on recording, echoing): Are you a god?

Are you an angel?

♪ ♪ ECCLESTON: You know, we were really excited about being able to kind of, like, lean in and experiment to create content for audiences.

During live, pre-COVID live performance, um, live performances, it was very difficult to bring all of that together in-person.

And actually, in the virtual world allow World Arts West and the many dance companies we serve use the rapidly improving Zoom technology.

During the pandemic, it was very important for us to continue to support artists not only through virtual streams, but to put money in artists' hands so that they could continue to create new work.

I feel like, um, there is this hope.

I feel like there is this unsustainability that has come to the surface, um, and really, artists are leading, you know, this whole movement of reimagining.

The COVID crisis saw performers reaching out to their social media fans and followers online.

Past and present company members of Broadway's 'Wicked' performed one of the most popular viral moments-- no pun intended-- with a virtual performance of 'Defying Gravity.'

♪ Something has changed within me ♪ ♪ Something is not the same ♪ ♪ I'm through with playing ♪ ♪ By the rules of someone else's game ♪ ♪ Too late for second-guessing ♪ ♪ Too late to go back to sleep ♪ ♪ It's time to trust my instincts ♪ ♪ Close my eyes and leap ♪ ♪ It's time to try defying gravity ♪ ♪ I think I'll try defying gravity ♪ ♪ And you can't pull me down ♪ Why do we care about the arts?

Why do the arts matter?

Arts have given me a voice.

A sense of purpose.

The freedom of expression.

I have a power.

A safe space.

It gives students a home.

- A home. - A home.

Long-lasting friendships.

So many friends.

People in the arts become my family.

- A family. - Community.

A huge community and I finally felt like I was worth something.

♪ ♪ ♪ There's a place where we don't have to feel unknown ♪ WILLIAMS: If the enthusiasm of those kids is any measure, the arts not only matter, but the future of the arts looks promising.

And as the year rolled on, there were reasons to be optimistic, or at least feel that the big gray COVID cloud had a tiny silver lining.

♪ So let the sun come streaming in ♪ ♪ You'll reach up and you'll rise again ♪ ♪ If you only look around ♪ ♪ You will be found ♪ WILLIAMS: Isolation and harmony, fragility and resilience, oppression and hope.

These are the emotions of our time and the subjects my dear friend Renée Fleming and I explored in 'A Time to Sing,' a unique event at the Kennedy Center.

DEBORAH RUTTER: Good evening to all of you.

We welcome you back to the Kennedy Center for our very first on-stage in the Opera House in more than six months.

My name is Deborah Rutter, the proud president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

This tonight is proof that the show truly must go on.

('What the World Needs Now Is Love' playing) ♪ What the world needs now ♪ ♪ Is love, sweet love ♪ ♪ It's the only thing ♪ ♪ That there's just too little of ♪ BOTH: ♪ What the world needs now ♪ ♪ Is love, sweet love ♪ - ♪ No, not just for some ♪ ♪ But for everyone ♪ ♪ Lord, we don't need another mountain ♪ ♪ There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb ♪ ♪ There are oceans and rivers enough to cross ♪ ♪ Enough to last till the end of time ♪ BOTH: ♪ What the world needs now ♪ ♪ Is love, sweet love ♪ - ♪ It's the only thing ♪ BOTH: ♪ That there's just too little of ♪ ♪ What the world needs now ♪ ♪ Is love, sweet love ♪ - ♪ No, not just for some ♪ BOTH: ♪ But for everyone ♪ ♪ Lord, we don't need another meadow ♪ ♪ There are cornfields and wheat fields ♪ ♪ Enough to grow ♪ ♪ There are sunbeams and moonbeams ♪ ♪ Enough to shine ♪ ♪ Oh, listen, Lord ♪ ♪ If you want to know ♪ BOTH: ♪ What the world needs now ♪ ♪ Is love, sweet love ♪ - ♪ It's the only thing ♪ BOTH: ♪ That there's just too little of ♪ ♪ What the world needs now ♪ ♪ Is love, sweet love ♪ - ♪ No, not just for some ♪ ♪ But for everyone ♪ ♪ Everyone ♪ - ♪ Everyone ♪ ♪ No, not just for some ♪ BOTH: ♪ But for everyone ♪ (holding note) (cheers and applause) Thank you!

FLEMING: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Singing for that small audience in the grand Kennedy Center Opera House gave us hope that one day soon, every single one of those seats would again be filled.

And now, there's even more reason to hope.

With vaccines approved and being distributed, the possibility of a return to normal life began to flicker like the ghost light.

For performers and their audiences, for the support industries and their employees, the hope began to grow that the bright lights might shine again soon.

Good evening and thanks for joining us.

A second coronavirus vaccine is approved and millions of doses are expected to be shipped out starting tomorrow, as infections rise and hospitals in many states report intensive care units are near... (cello playing 'Ave Maria') LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: So I'm emotional today.

I'm going to be talking to you mostly in Broadway quotes, 'cause that's where we are.

I can't help but have the sense of empty chairs at empty tables.

I'm thinking of those in the Broadway community we've lost over the past year.

I am thinking of Terrence McNally.

I'm thinking of the great Nick Cordero, who is my age and we lost to this terrible virus.

And I'm thrilled to be here at the opening of a vaccination clinic for Broadway workers.

And that's everyone.

And if you worked on Broadway or you worked off-Broadway, you work in the theater, if you worked in the wardrobe department, if you were a stage manager, if you were a front-of-house staff, you were an usher, you are welcome to this incredible facility on 47th Street which I have just toured.

We want to gather again.

And we want to tell stories in the dark.

We cannot do that if we don't feel safe, and if you don't feel safe.

So the first step in that process is getting our vaccination shots.

And I can't wait to be in a theater with you again.

Thank you so much.

There were so many things learnt during this pandemic, but overall, and so many crises that we dealt with, but overall, what we learnt was, stay connected to your community, stay connected to your artists, continue to be resilient, persevere, create a space where we can gather.

The arts inform us of who we were, they tell us who we are, and they also point the way to what we aspire to be.

FORBES: And I think what's gonna be so important for, as our cities come back in line, as our communities come back in line, that, quite frankly, it's artists who will lead the way to teach us, to heal us, to teach us to feel again.

Just to, to guide us in that way, in that modality about how we are able to sort of access the parts of ourselves that we, quite frankly, have not been able to access throughout this pandemic.

You know, I look at photos from all these great performances that I've been to before the pandemic, and it does feel like another life to me at this moment.

And I think that what happens after this pandemic leaves, it's gonna be another life, as well.

ECCLESTON: I'm excited about being in community, being in fellowship, and being able to experience the transcendent power of live performance.

I'm just excited to see who we'll be as a community as we come back and experience each other anew, and our artists anew, and our community.

JANICE SINDEN: For me, that's the most uplifting part of this, is seeing a community come together to say, 'This is going to be very hard, and very real, 'but at the end of the day, 'we're gonna do this together and we're gonna come back strong.'

EUSTIS: This last year has taught us, issued an enormous wake-up call and a chance to reset.

And that reset for The Public is doubling down on our mission.

Doubling down on the idea that the enormous diversity of voices is America's great strength.

That we need to give agency to those who have been denied agency, historically, in this country.

This past year, we have seen 'Great Performances' from every space imaginable.

The marriage of arts and technology has expanded accessibility to the arts and more opportunities for performers to be seen and heard.

Digital distribution has allowed audiences to discover new talent who we'll follow for years, and new ways of performing that bolstered our enthusiasm for live events.

And if you have a pulse, I know you want to walk through those theater doors, smile at your neighbor in the next seat, commit to two hours in the darkness, and expect to shed tears of joy when the artists once again ply their craft live on stage.

It can't come soon enough.

The arts may have been interrupted, but they're coming back!

I'm Vanessa Williams for 'Great Performances.'

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