SANTA FE (AP) – Performance groups in Santa Fe have taken the adage “the show must go on” to heart during the coronavirus pandemic as they turn to a new stage: the internet.
With theaters shuttered, virtual performances have abounded on websites. The Lensic Performing Arts Center, the Santa Fe Opera, the Santa Fe Symphony, Performance Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival have joined the virtual festivities.
The local organizations leapt into the unknown with online programming and were delighted to reach audiences around the world.
Each of Santa Fe’s major performing arts organizations took a unique approach to creating an online performance presence.
The Santa Fe Opera streamed roughly 30-minute compilations of talks and two selections for each of the five operas canceled this season. The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus scaled down to small ensembles and took the shows outdoors.
The Lensic staged 28 Ghost Light Sessions – live performances on the Lensic stage without an audience that were streamed online. Performance Santa Fe tracked down archived video performances by performers scheduled to appear this season or who performed in prior seasons.
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has had a minimal online presence so far, but the summer festival will be online if performances with a live audience are not possible.
Santa Fe Pro Musica had a virtual performance Oct. 16 featuring its new artistic director, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott. Otherwise, the organization is in “hibernation” performance-wise.
“We are not planning anything else,” Santa Fe Pro Musica board President Tim Terell told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “We made the decision when we hibernated this year to focus not so much on a virtual program. We didn’t want to use resources that way.”
The Santa Fe Opera had never done online streaming and had a limited budget to produce a streaming presence. Well into the pandemic, it remained focused on staging a live season before that possibility faded away in late May, said Emily Doyle Moore, the opera’s director of media and public relations.
Virtual planning did not start until early June with “opening night” of the first online presentation July 3 after hastily coming up with a concept and assembling talent.
The Santa Fe Opera has no video archive, unlike the Metropolitan Opera, which nightly offers free online streaming of past performances.
“We knew we had to do something, but we didn’t have an idea what that something would be,” Moore said. “We knew we would have to create fresh content, bite-size celebrations.”
A small team from several departments formed a digital content task force to brainstorm around the resources available, best ideas they saw from other opera companies and what would best represent Santa Fe Opera. They worked off the KHFM Festival of the Performing Arts, which they took part in May, to come up with Songs from the Santa Fe Opera, with episodes for each of the five operas.
Four of the hosts live in Santa Fe and filmed their bits at the opera during sunset to match the time the episodes first aired. Robert Tweten, Santa Fe Opera’s head of music staff, taped the piano accompaniments, which were sent to each of the singers wherever in the world they were sheltering in place. The opera recruited one cast member of each opera to sing two arias.
Moore said “Songs from the Santa Fe Opera generated more than 80,000 views and logged 4,430 combined hours of virtual viewing.
“We have cultivated so many new followers,” Moore said, adding that Facebook followers increased 6% to 1.4 million, Instagram followers grew 15% to 130,000 and YouTube viewings rose 124%.
Santa Fe Opera debuted Songs of the Season online Dec. 6 as a virtual replacement for its annual winter tour of New Mexico. Pieces were recorded at three churches, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, featuring opera singers who live in the area.
“For us, it has been a rousing success,” Moore said. “It exceeded all expectations.”
The Lensic has had a robust virtual schedule centered around its Ghost Light Sessions. More than two dozen local performers have played in the empty auditorium on a stage decorated with the ghost light – an old theater tradition to leave a single light bulb illuminated on a pole at the front of the stage when the theater is not in use.
“It’s all local artists,” said Joel Aalberts, Lensic’s executive director. “It is a focus on local musicians.”
The Ghost Light Sessions have received more than 10,000 views online, Aalberts said.
Enterprise Bank & Trust sponsored the Ghost Light Sessions so viewers could watch the concerts at no cost. Artists were paid $100 for their performances. Enterprise also sponsored online efforts by the Santa Fe Symphony and Performance Santa Fe.
“(We) emphasize that our goal is to provide support to organizations to make events as accessible to all,” said Dion Silva, president of Enterprise’s Santa Fe region.
The virtual efforts have helped the Lensic raise more than $1 million in its Set the Stage campaign to help support the organization until the theater can reopen, Aalberts said.
“What’s really been useful with this is maintaining our connection with the Lensic audience,” Aalberts said.
The Santa Fe Symphony chose not to do what other orchestras have done: Assemble the orchestra onstage and film it. Not only did that not appeal to the orchestra, but it was not feasible with state public health orders limiting groups to as few as five people, said Daniel Crupi, the symphony’s executive director.
“I wanted to do something different, something that ties into New Mexico,” Crupi said. “People love to make their pilgrimages (in New Mexico). Why don’t we bring New Mexico to them? Why not use the Ghost Ranch and botanical garden?”
The symphony played its fall season mostly on the same dates originally scheduled. But instead of the orchestra at the Lensic, smaller ensembles played a Virtual Concert Series at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, on the roof of the Thornburg Investment Management building, at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and most recently in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
“We had no idea if this would be successful,” Crupi said. “We had no idea if a string quartet would sound good at the Ghost Ranch.”
The Santa Fe Symphony sold 10,200 tickets for $20 per household for its first four virtual concerts, with viewers from around the U.S. and 16 countries.
“That is a great number that is way more than we could fit into the Lensic,” Crupi said.
Performance Santa Fe primarily has focused its virtual offerings as exclusive viewing for its Annual Fund members, a group that Chad Hilligus, the organization’s executive and artistic director, started upon his arrival 1½ years ago. The organization streamed a series called [email protected], which involved 17 archived performances of performers from this season or previous-season Performance Santa Fe artists, with eight performances acquired from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Before that, Performance Santa Fe had a virtual gala in July that Hilligus promoted on Facebook and Instagram. It was listed as a top 10 event on a classical music blog in Toronto, he said.
More than 2,000 people from 14 countries tuned in to the livestream gala, generating 256 donations for $160,000 raised, with 67% first-time donors, Hilligus said.
Performance Santa Fe started in March with 161 Annual Fund members, but as the [email protected] series started streaming, more people from more states donated to the fund to get access to the shows. The Annual Fund now has 373 members from 16 states.
“The fact that we reached so many people is incredible,” Hilligus said.
Performance Santa Fe premiered its livestream benefit concert “Christmas at the Cathedral” on Dec. 19 with 15 performers who live in Santa Fe, including Susan Graham, Beth Clayton, Patricia Racette and Ali MacGraw.
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is streaming a three-part program featuring archival performances of the three-part documentary “Johannes Brahms: The Violin and Viola Sonatas” performed 35 years ago by the festival’s artistic director, Marc Neikrug, and violinist Pinchas Zukerman.
“What we are looking at is whether we should be virtual next summer,” said Steven Ovitsky, the organization’s executive director. “If there is a vaccine, we will have a normal season and online content. (If the coronavirus is not contained), then we are looking seriously at a major digital season.”