Art Will Heal
Frankly Green Bay Article written by Denis Gullickson and Rachel Brooks for the April issue.
On Wednesday, March 25, Green Bay authorities mayor Eric Genrich, fire chief David Litton, and police chief Andrew Smith issued a video statement that the coronavirus pandemic has yet to hit the city to the extent seen elsewhere and that its “surge" likely remains a couple of weeks off for Titletown. While their pronouncement assured citizens that necessary services and personnel are firmly in place and prepared for current and future circumstances, like all such presentations by public authorities, the message was also understandably disconcerting. There is a silent monster out there that is seething across our nation and should not be underestimated, especially by those entrusted in leadership positions. Thanks to Green Bay's leaders. As of the minute of this writing, social media stations have reports that the United States has 75,655 confirmed coronavirus cases including 1,100 deaths and 1,863 documented recoveries from the disease. The pandemic's surge in the U.S. is still to come, according to scientists, with hotspots such as the great city of New York and states such as California and Washington facing their own unique curves. In an article dated March 24, CNN reporters Matthew Hilk, Arman Azad and Wes Bruer put it quite simply. “March came in with a sickness and will go out with a surge." As always in such catastrophes, the best and the worst of humanity is on full display. Early instances of hoarding essential supplies showed the reprehensible instinct of “me first" too often prevalent in this country and elsewhere. Nearly simultaneous responses countered that selfish inclination as better people sprang into action checking on vulnerable neighbors, making masks, donating to charities or directly to others in need and igniting a thousand other “points of light" to fend off the darkness of the disease and the self-centered.
Some Hope That's the current paradigm—the human condition is now on full display in all its greed and glory. Politicians in Washington, D.C. have mirrored the nation as they wrangle over who or what is going to be saved and who or what is going to be decimated. For a lack of adequate tools, healthcare professionals and scientists fight tooth and nail, literally, in the trenches of emergency rooms and intensive care units motivated by a can-do and must-do attitude. Who could thank them enough? Vaccines, best practices and tamping down the arc of the surge are all targets in constant focus. Meanwhile, that much ballyhooed commodity, “the American spirit," also surges and is demonstrated by this nation's creative soul which has also been hit hard but is fighting back with an inspirational vengeance. It does this father proud to have my daughter, Rachel, join me here as we acknowledge that we will get through this pandemic “together while staying apart." That now — as a soothing balm— and in due time — as part of the overwhelming cure — “Art Will Heal."
Words from a Father and Daughter The conditions confronting the nation have struck hard at our country's artistic and performance communities. Broadway is closed for the first time ever and for the foreseeable future. Some shows — “Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" for instance, are closing permanently before Broadway can reopen. Playwrights are being asked to return advances. The Tony's are postponed, not cancelled but postponed indefinitely. Broadway's beloveds are being diagnosed with COVID-19: Laura Bell Bundy, Aaron Tveitt and others along with the loss of Terrance McNally and Mark Blum. Sadly, more will follow. Just how else and how long this might dim Broadway's lights when there are no Broadway lights to dim is anyone's guess. The financial blow of COVID-19 is felt by everyone. But in the arts, creative individuals, who too often live on the margin anyway, are also feeling some of its harshest blows. While Broadway represents a conspicuous locus for our nation's creative élan, the effect of this pandemic is being felt everywhere artists and performers toil, from the individual “maker" facing lost local markets to the frailest of regional theater companies to the most successful of performing art centers.
The Local Toll and the Fight Back Rachel Brooks is a musical theater actress, a director, choreographer, dance instructor, voice teacher and a devotee and supporter of all things creative. Her time at NYC's American Musical and Dramatic Academy gives her a perspective that reaches to the heart of this pandemic's effect on the arts and the ability of the arts to play a vital role in our resurgence. “As artists and performers," Brooks said, “we often sense that our craft isn't deemed 'essential' but when the people of our world need their lives elevated after this weight is lifted, you absolutely know the art and theater communities will be there." In all locales, the losses to artists, galleries, theaters, dance companies and the like are devastating — not only in dollar amounts, but in experience and personal and collective advancement of art. Dance recitals were cancelled after costumes were purchased, routines were perfected and countless hours of rehearsal were invested. Many theater companies were in dress rehearsal when word came that the show would not go on. For most theater groups, thousands of dollars of upfront costs were expended with the hope and prayer that ticket sales would cover the risk and, perhaps, salt enough away to get the next production started. Many theater companies find themselves pleading with patrons to donate their tickets rather than request refunds. The Sheboygan Theatre Company had to cancel its much-anticipated production of “Mary Poppins" the same day it offered audition slots. St. Norbert College cancelled “Chess" a month out from its auditions. In many cases, production rights have already been paid and the refund process can be especially clunky sometimes. The Sheboygan Press recently reported that area arts and nonprofits have lost significant amounts of money to social distancing. That number is also surging by the day as it is across the nation. In all locales, the losses to artists, galleries, theaters, dance companies and the like are devastating—not only in dollar amounts, but in experience and personal and collective advancement of art. Dance recitals were cancelled after costumes were purchased, routines were perfected and countless hours of rehearsal were invested. Many theater companies were in dress rehearsal when word came that the show would not go on. For most theater groups, thousands of dollars of upfront costs were expended with the hope and prayer that ticket sales would cover the risk and, perhaps, salt enough away to get the next production started. Many theater companies find themselves pleading with patrons to donate their tickets rather than request refunds.
Rebounding Theaters, like other venues, will remain dark and empty for the time being. Local thespian and Green Bay Theatre Company's secretary, Rachel Brooks, shared her thoughts. “Like other artists, thespians need connection," Brooks explained. “They need their creative outpouring utilized. In a social distancing world, it becomes very difficult. You quite simply do not know when you can make plans for the next production adding to the existing agony of not being able to perform." In Green Bay in particular, arts and performance venues have shuttered, events have been cancelled or postponed to some fuzzy future date and creative individuals have been left reeling as to how to proceed.
Many, such as Amelie Eiding and Jon Kresin of the musical group, 7000Apart, have posted upbeat, live music videos online. Frank Hermans has been sharing solo performances by members of his outstanding troupe on social media as well. Visual artists such as Peter Koury have projected future projects and shared inspiring current and past works. Xavier Horkman has used Facebook to share his latest reflection in words, paint or video storytelling. These are just a few of the local efforts to fight off the spiritual, mental and emotional onslaught of this pandemic. Creative types all around Titletown continue to interact, encourage and support via social media. In the face of darkness, an inestimable number of beautiful things are happening even now across our local and national arts and performance communities. Artists are banding together to take this "pause" and continue to create, cultivate and motivate themselves and each other—just as artists have always done. A community of teachers are spreading their artistic wealth via virtual learning. Dance instructors are Instagramming “Living Ballet Technique," “Musical Theatre Combos," “How to Tap in Your Apartment" and other offerings. Voice and acting teachers are Zoom Calling lessons. Thespians are gathering online to read plays. Songwriters and musicians are joining from across the world in musical celebration. Even if you are sheltering-in-place in Green Bay, you can take a dance class from a New York instructor, which might otherwise be impossible. There's more—each and all showcasing the irrepressible resilience of artists. “Broadway World" reports on entertainment segments with our favorite Broadway stars, living room concerts, Stars in The House and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Lloyd Webber engaging in a piano duel-off. The Wisconsin State Music Association hosted a virtual Solo & Ensemble competition since regional and state meets could not take place.
Art Will Heal Costume designers have stepped up and created a group to make masks for doctors while set builders and technical designers have lent hands making ventilators and other vital supplies. Legendary Broadway actress, Laura Benanti, has launched a huge Instagram campaign for high school performers whose musicals were cancelled, allowing them to show the world their talents despite the auspices of “Safer at Home." The examples are endless and “Broadway World" has its thumb on the pulse if readers want to know more about what is happening at the epicenter of performance and pandemic in our greatest city. So, while a pandemic surges, so does a cure. Yes, medical cures to be certain. So, too, however, the cure of art and performance that will be nearly as necessary as we weather this malady and watch it all-too-slowly pass. Hopefully soon, the neon lights will be bright again on Broadway as well as in every creative community across our country. We will all need that.
Denis Gullickson is an author, educator, historian and farmer. He is President of the Green Bay Theatre Company which oversees operation of The Premier, an arts and performance incubator closed temporarily. Rachel Brooks is a musical theater actress, secretary of the GBTC Board and an accomplished equestrian. Lead roles include Mary Poppins, Eliza Doolittle and Eva Peron.