Several of the performances presented this past season were not how they were originally intended to be experienced. Without the pandemic we might not have had the chance to encounter these new creative works. In February 2020, we were already reviewing tour dossiers and preparing for what the 2020-21 season would be. The rest of the story is familiar: March 13, 2020 came and we filed the assets gathered for later use, including A Gospel According to James Baldwin from ten-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello.
Inspired by the writing of James Baldwin, Ndegeocello collaborated with director Charlotte Brathwaite to reimagine her live performance. What emerged was just as immersive and experiential as her intended tour — but a virtual experience. Rather than a live interaction between artists and audiences, they communicated monthly by phone, online and by mail. “This is a different experience,” Ndegeocello said, “so I hope you have an open mind, or at least an open heart.” Those who experienced the project in fall 2020, described by the artist as “a 21st-century ritual tool kit for justice,” engaged in an urgent and critical investigation of race, religion, sexual orientation and the American status quo through the lens of Baldwin’s ideas and legacy expressed in music.
For Brooklyn Youth Chorus, it was evident that bringing 600 choristers from New York to Los Angeles would not be plausible. Instead, CAP UCLA executive and artistic director Kristy Edmunds asked, “Can you reimagine this for a virtual audience?” The answer was both yes and no. As a compromise, the project, She Is Called, a collaboration with four celebrated composers to create original works for the chorus, became multiple phases. The first phase, She Is Called: Dear Stranger, a media-rich web-based experience, launched last Saturday, April 24th. Visitors to the site can scroll down and hear original works composed by Nathalie Joachim, David Lang, Alev Lenz and Shara Nova or click the header images and hear the choristers read letters to their past and future selves.
Composer Ted Hearne, on the other hand, felt performing his work sans audience would help bring the project to the stage when live performance could return. He was still developing the piece, then entitled In Your Mouth, in February 2020 when it had a work-in-progress showing at the Walker Center in Minneapolis. After discussions with Edmunds about how to reshape and create the work for the digital stage, he renamed it Dorothea, in honor of poet Dorothea Laskey, whose poems are at the heart of the piece. “[CAP UCLA Online] is a perfect space for its current form,” said Hearne. “The film will allow me to bring it to other centers.”
Luckily for us, many of the artists whose works we would have presented live on stage this past season have been excited about rethinking the format and delivery of their work rather than facing cancelation. To continue this much needed process of recovery to maintain our presence and place in the performing arts culture of L.A., we’ll need your help.
Today launches our spring fundraising campaign in which we ask you to reimagine a future with us — one with a vibrant arts ecosystem and exciting presentations from performing artists around the globe. Supporting us with a gift today makes you an instant member of our community of dedicated arts patrons committed to the vitality of contemporary performance and to expanding our understanding of the world we live in now.