I’ve been trying to reconstruct the sequence of what went on behind the scenes over the past three weeks at CAP UCLA. In the widening uncertainty that was changing by the hour with increasing intensity, there were critical signs to listen for and crucial decisions to make. Everything was moving at a monstrous pace that was upending our daily lives, and flummoxing every pattern of continuity in rapid succession. At CAP UCLA we had to pass through the stages of grief at lightning speed and lean directly into an acceptance that we would necessarily postpone everything we worked on for years to manifest with so many artists, managers, producers and collaborators.
While refunding tickets for thousands of audience members, cancelling hotel and flight reservations, sending staff home to identify the holes we would surely encounter working remotely, and fielding calls from our colleagues nationwide — we also needed to make a hard pivot to focus on the impossible situations that were having an instant impact on performing artists.
Our already fragile performing arts economies were in freefall. In order to best help each other we drew on the resources that we had: our hearts, our wits, our networks and our ideas. And while it is nothing more or less remarkable than what every single person was (and is) uniquely contending with, there is a bit of a ‘silver lining’ moment we want to share with you. Something we managed to pull together before the ‘Safer at Home’ order began. It is something we knew how to do and knew we could make happen with some love and willing effort. And we did it with you in mind.
As news of successive tour cancellations poured in, we linked artists to our contacts in cities around the country. We started the important work of shaping emergency relief efforts (not knowing how fast that need would grow), and we were in contact with artists abroad to relay important information as it was coming to us. Within days, the international ensembles already in the U.S. and en route to Los Angeles were learning that they would be facing quarantine periods upon their return home – Porte Parole returned to Canada and Ladysmith Black Mambazo quickly diverted to Los Angeles where we were able to put them up, practice our newly acquired physical distancing and regroup together before their return to South Africa.
Here is the silver lining part —
In the short time that Ladysmith Black Mambazo was here, we decided that we would proceed with their concert in Royce Hall. Instead of performing to a live audience of close to 1800 people along with a separate concert for 1500 public school students, as was originally intended, they would instead perform to a 3-person camera crew and a smattering of staff. Royce Hall is 191,000 square feet — an ample space to keep us under the then required ‘no more than 50 people’ distancing measure in place. The unparalleled work ethic of our technical production team ensured that every aspect of the original production design would happen in full.
That late Monday afternoon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo stood together on the Royce Hall stage in full costume and sang out the wisdom, resilience and harmonies of their incredible music and cultural heritage. They sang to every audience member’s empty seat, to the rafters of Royce, to the crew and to this global moment that we all must meet with shared purpose.
I want to thank Ladysmith, their management, the Royce Hall crew and CAP UCLA staff, the camera operators and editor, the sound engineer, and our incredible collaborators at KCRW.
For all of us who operate from the principled ethic that “the show must go on,” it is more than rhetorical. Every one of us plays a role in the grand collaboration of making the art of the stage come to life for our communities that have found their way to our theaters and concert halls for centuries.
It is how our collective creativity and compassion finds form.
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance