They may have been kicking around the idea of providing online digital content for a while, but local performing arts companies have rolled out streaming and online videos of performances in a hurry as crowd restrictions and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic make holding live performances an impossibility for a couple of months.
Just as UCSB Arts & Lectures recently launched a digital series consisting of archival and new footage of performances and lectures, the Santa Barbara Symphony and Opera Santa Barbara will soon introduce their own online video series’ to provide free artistic content to the public and financial compensation to their now out of work performers.
As of now, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s concert originally scheduled for last month has been rescheduled for June. Its concert originally scheduled for April has been cancelled altogether. Symphony President and CEO Kevin Marvin told the News-Press that the organization is in the process of deciding what course of action to take with its concert planned for May. Due to all these cancelations, revenue the SBS typically takes in at this time of year is lower than in past years. First, it has had to hand out refunds for cancelled and postponed concerts. Second, the coronavirus situation has caused pre-sale subscriptions for the 2020/21 season that begins in October to lag far behind how they usually sell at this time of year. Though he couldn’t put an exact number on it, Mr. Marvin said the discrepancy between the amount of money the SBS is taking in now compared to past years is massive.
“It’s significant. It’s several hundred thousand dollars,” he said.
The symphony’s calendar being absent of events for the next two months is problematic, not just for the organization as it runs on ever-decreasing cash reserves, but for its musicians who don’t get paid during this period of inactivity. Musicians who play for the symphony aren’t on a payroll, but are per service independent contractors protected by a collective bargaining agreement.
To put a little bit of money in the pockets of SBS musicians, the symphony is pursuing a few different strategies. It has applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and is currently awaiting a response on whether it will be accepted. Also, it has negotiated a deal with the SBS musicians’ union that will allow the symphony to stream past concerts online. This deal was actually reached a while ago and SBS had long considered doing online content, but Mr. Marvin said this didn’t result in anything until the coronavirus crisis expedited its coming together.
“This gave us the perfect opportunity to bring it back and make it a reality,” he said.
The SBS’ streaming series, called “Sunday With the Symphony,” is scheduled to begin on April 19 on the symphony’s website and will continue each Sunday thereafter. The inaugural stream will be a 30 minute segment from a May 2019 concert featuring Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9” and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.” According to Mr. Marvin, the SBS’ musicians will be monetarily compensated for the streams of their performance.
“What this does is that it does get cash flowing to the musicians,” the president stated.
Opera Santa Barbara is also streaming performances online. According to its General Director Kostis Protopapas, everyone involved in the performances that it webcasts will be financially compensated regardless of whether OSB is contractually obligated to do so. The company has selected Tuesdays to livestream past performances. On April 7, it did its first webcast on Facebook and YouTube, streaming OSB’s production of Daniel Catan’s opera “Il Postino.” Its next webcasts will be of Robert Ward’s “The Crucible” and Mr. Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and the two will be streamed on April 14 and 21, respectively.
In addition to OSB’s webcasts, the company’s new digital content will also include “Corks and Composers,” a series for those 21 years older in which OSB Principal Pianist Tim Accurso pairs a composer with a wine and curates a fitting Spotify playlist.
On top of this, it will also include the video series “OSB Sings For You,” in which some of the company’s favorite opera singers perform one of their favorite arias, or a number from an opera that will appear in OSB’s 2020/21 season. These include mezzo-soprano vocalist Ashley Armstrong, who sang with OSB last season, performing “Habanera” from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” and soprano Jana McIntyre previewing a number from Gaetano Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment.” This particular series will contain a mix of archival and brand-new performances.
“We are reusing some assets, but we have put a call out to folks to send us specially recorded videos, for which we are paying them,” Mr. Protopapas stated.
Once the health crisis abates and restrictions are lifted, Mr. Protopapas imagines OSB’s digital content series will stick around in some form or another, as it broadens the company’s reach.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing for all involved. It is going to give us a bigger engagement and a bigger presence,” he said.
As he sees it, OSB’s online videos and streaming will be a nice addition to the company’s live productions, which won’t be in any danger of being eclipsed by their virtual counterparts. Before restrictions on public crowds went into effect and the remaining dates of OSB’s 2019/20 season were cancelled, the company was considering holding a free preview concert of its 2020/21 season in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden. Mr. Protopapas told the News-Press that OSB is still hoping to resume when the season opens Sept. 25.
SBS is also looking forward to the day it can get back into the routine of performing music for the public. While not all events cancelled due to the coronavirus will be rescheduled, SBS artistic director Nir Kabaretti told the News-Press that it is likely he and his colleagues will come up with some brand new concerts to welcome the public back to the symphony. However, he clarified that this will only happen once the time is right and the public is comfortable going to shows again.
“We will resume once we get the green light and will probably come up with some extra projects for the community, but we need to be careful before we plan something like that,” Mr. Kabaretti said.
In the meantime, the artistic director assured that these months away from performance are anything but a vacation for the symphony’s musicians, who are keeping up their practicing so they’re ready to start playing once things return to normal.
“We’re still maintaining our routines to stay in shape,” he said.