Performing Arts: Theater
January 15, 2022
Plans were dashed for an in person congregation of leading presenters and performing arts from across the nation and abroad; instead, faces emerged on-line and minds opened up to words filled with inspiration, choices and decisions forecasting the future.

While performances were pock-marked by cancellations and shortened seasons, audiences opened browsers and stepped into artists' worlds on-line. And what was the measurable impact on audiences, artists and organizations? Turns out, it was a mixed bag.

Over the space of four days, professionals exchanged data accumulated and assessed over the past two years. Despite the interruptions, news was not all grim.  New pockets of hope opened up creating more spaces for diverse voices and experimental works.

In the opening keynote, a gifted grants director from the Jerome Foundation, Ben Cameron, made one thing very clear: what matters most are values. It's time for everyone to re-think what they're about (in truth this is not advice limited to arts professionals) and to ask:"Why do we do what we do, what is our purpose and what do we believe in?"

Another panel put together and pulled apart stats on attendance by live and virtual audiences, donations, and feelings about representation in the arts. Compared to white audiences, people of color saw disparities in representation whether it was dance, music, theater or the visual arts. Jazz fared best, but even this quintessentially Afro-American-Caribbean art form lacked some level of equity according to the survey participants.

Participants questioned the fiscal viability of free streaming. Suggestions ranged from a virtual "tip jar" to low fee structures meant to attract new guests. Everyone agreed that the internet drew new constituents, because the internet reached beyond the local area and offered a "no risk" opportunity to experience an art form.

Some ideas floated for attracting new audiences included giving supporters or subscription holders free tickets to give to friends, or set low-cost tickets on certain days. Chat  threads revealed some very creative approaches to personalizing the creative experience by uploading: interviews with artists, behind-the-scenes videos, games related to an upcoming performance or even opportunities to engage with the actual creative process.

Addressing everyone in the conference opening and closing, the supremely self-composed APAP CEO, Lisa Richards Toney, embraced the current COVID situation centering the health of the participants in APAP's decision to go virtual. So many factors played into this decision, as well as the cancellation of favored mini-festivals associated with APAP like Under the Radar Festival held at the Public Theater in NYC.

Affinity groups continued to meet like the Dance USA forum for dance professionals. A difficult time to navigate, dancers feared for their short-lived dance careers, loss of technical facility and diminution of audiences. Despite these challenges, dancers set out to create community actively embracing social and racial issues and diversity concerns in their works.

The transference of live dance to the internet activated voluble exchanges about videotaping dance---the cost, creative dilution, space restrictions, and clunky videos.

Then again, others appreciated the intimacy afforded by video and ability to be fanciful--to fly, to instantaneously change outfits or looks. Feelings ran high regarding accessing a platform to support dance videos or videodance (dance designed for the camera) like a Netflix for dance, which in fact, exists but has yet to design an attractive subscription platform.

During her closing remarks, Ms. Richards called out the names of all the keynote and plenary speakers as well as APAP's non-stop working staff, in particular, Krista Bradley, Director of Programs and Resources, who kept the conference running smoothly. 

APAP NYC 2022 proved poetry and prose animate a field in a state of transition, and loss, hope and regeneration.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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