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Arts and entertainment community on hold due to pandemic

  • With large public gatherings prohibited for the foreseeable future, big crowds like this at a Peterborough Town House concert are off the table. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/18/2020 6:42:47 PM

For Ciaran Nagle, St. Patrick’s Day has a deep meaning.

Having grown up and lived most of his life in Ireland, the connection to the holiday – both religiously, in a sense of community and musically – is beyond measure.

Along with his wife, Tara Novak, the two are a sought after performance in the Celtic music scene with their band Ishna, especially around this time of year.

But starting with the cancellation of their opening performance for Enter the Haggis last Friday as part of Peterborough Concert Series, their musical careers are now put on hold, at least through the end of April.

”All that’s gone. Every single concert, every single performance was cleared off the calendar,” Nagle said. “And we’re not alone.”

Nagle said that means anywhere from 30 to 50 shows, and quite a bit of income.

”Our gigs are our life line,” Nagle said. “It’s the equivalent of your business being there one minute and all of a sudden it evaporates the next.”

Nagle said there have been discussions about doing live concerts from home, and while it won’t offset the financial losses, he feels it can be a very powerful thing.

“The thing right now is to keep positive and we’ll try to do our part through sharing our music,” Nagle said.

On St. Patrick’s Day, the duo were in Boston and did play with a handful of musicians at the Cathedral of Holy Cross in the South End. But the only audience watching was through a live stream. And it had Nagle reflecting on what was happening on St. Patrick’s Day in 2019.

“Last year we were at Cooper’s having a great time, people dancing on tables,” he said. “This year was a stark contrast to that.”

And the effect the pandemic is having on the entire arts and entertainment industry is enormous. Over the course of the last week, many local performances, concerts and art gallery shows have also been canceled and postponed to combat the spread of coronavirus, leaving artists and enthusiasts wondering when the lights will shine again.

Just last Wednesday, Peterborough Players Artistic Director Gus Kaikkonen was on Broadway catching a sold-out performance of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Booth Theatre in New York City.

The very next day, Broadway put a stop to its performances due to the threat of COVID-19 through at least April 12.

For Kaikkonen and the Players, the stoppage to the entertainment world meant the cancellation of two Metropolitan Opera live performances in HD, because the Met Opera is shut down, as well as two National Theatre Live performances due to the limitations on large gatherings, a special concert and a pair of local dance studio performances.

But Kaikkonen feels fortunate in some respect. The Players winter season is over and the hope is that the closure won’t affect the start of its summer season set to begin June 17 with “Last Call” by Peter Danish.

And just last Monday, Kaikkonen said, the Players wrapped up auditions for its summer season in Boston with the final offers going out last Wednesday.

But not everyone was so lucky.

On Monday, Music on Norway Pond Artistic Director Jody Hill Simpson and the organization’s board had a virtual meeting to discuss how to proceed with its season that was scheduled through early May. It was determined that Music on Norway Pond had to cancel its season.

“It was an obvious decision, but I am, I think, in grieving mode,” Simpson said. “I’m not sure what people are supposed to do, but I don’t think it’s right to have concerts right now.”

In total, Music on Norway Pond canceled six concerts planned through early May, but the decision didn’t come without a silver lining. During discussions with the board, it was decided that the organization would still pay its musicians who were committed to performing.

“There are a lot of starving artists out there who live by their gigs,” Simpson said.

Simpson said it was the right thing to do.

“But they’re getting a pretty horrible deal,” Simpson said of the musicians.

People who have bought tickets will be given the option to donate the proceeds to the artist or provided a refund.

At the MacDowell Colony, the difficult decision was made to close the oldest residency program in the country for an unspecified amount of time.

Resident Director David Macy said there were more than 25 artists in residence at the time of the decision last Wednesday. Of the artists at MacDowell, Macy said about 80 percent didn’t have cars of their own, including five that came from outside the U.S., so assisting with departures has been a complicated situation.

Macy said that all residents will be gone from MacDowell by Monday, March 23. He added that the arrivals for the remainder of March, April and May have been informed that there wasn’t a timeline for reopening. MacDowell houses 300 fellows per year and Macy said “that’s 300 arrivals and 300 departures and they’re not aligned in any one bunch.”

“Not knowing when reopening will happen, all plans are contingent,” Macy said.

While the artists weren’t happy with the decision Macy said there has been an amazing amount of grace and good will.

Macy said they’re working on a number of different scenarios to assist the artists that had to leave, including the opportunity to reapply in September, waiving the two-year grace period.

“They’re all contingent plans based on how long the closure lasts,” Macy said.

Macy said that stays last anywhere from two to eight weeks.

Macy said discussions about a possible closure began with the staff and it ultimately became apparent that there was no way to ensure the safety of the artists and staff. The artists were informed last Thursday.

In the 25 years since Deb McWethy started Peterborough Folk Music, she has never had to refund tickets like this.

After careful consideration, McWethy decided to cancel all the shows on the series schedule through the end of April. That means a total of three shows have been crossed off the calendar, including Birds of Chicago on March 28 at the Peterborough Players, Aztec Two-Step April 4 at Bass Hall and next on the list for a house concert in McWethy’s Harrisville living room with Pierre Bensusan on April 11.

“The performers would like to reschedule, but it’s not always possible,” McWethy said.

As of now there are three shows remaining in the season with the next performance slated for May 3 at McWethy’s with Dave Gunning.

“We’re certainly hopeful we will have our May concerts,” McWethy said. “But obviously the safety of everyone is most important.”

McWethy said the concert series will be fine despite the loss in revenue, but what she worries about is the artists.

“I don’t think people realize that artists, this is what they depend on – their live concerts,” McWethy said.

She has seen that a lot of performers are doing live concerts in their homes to try and generate some income. McWethy suggested people buy merchandise or tickets to future concerts to show support.

“For us, that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the impact it has on people’s lives,” she said.

Barbara Danser and the art group she runs, EarthSong Artists, were supposed to exhibit at the Hancock Library starting March 27 and hold an opening reception that day, but with the library’s closure, the exhibit is now off.

Nine local artists were part of the show and while the Hancock Library isn’t what might be thought of as a high traffic area, Danser said in addition to the patrons of the library, classes and groups that meet in the Daniels Room have led to sales in the past.

“As far as income, I don’t know what it will do,” Danser said.

On Monday, Danser drove to New York City to drop off a sculpture, but isn’t sure what sales will look like moving forward.

“I think this is going to have an effect on just about everything,” Danser said. “And when push comes to shove, (art) is probably the last thing people are going to spend their money on.”

For Danser, she sees the impact the pandemic could have.

“I think its going to be very hard for people in the arts, because its going to be hard for people in just about every calling,” Danser said.

She hopes that people will use their talents to get them through the tough times.

“I think probably one way to make an income is to teach as much as possible. That’s something that will carry people through,” Danser said. “It’s a relatively small amount of income, but it’s something.”

Andy’s Summer Playhouse Artistic Director Jared Mezzocchi wrote on the youth theatre’s Facebook page, “First and foremost, the health of our community and children is of the utmost importance. Therefore, we will be cancelling our March Orientation that was scheduled to take place at Wilton-Lyndeborough High School on March 29. We will directly contact those of you who already registered for that orientation. Please stay tuned via our newsletter, website and social media for updates about our April and May events, as well as our summer programming. We have great things planned and we’re thinking creatively about how to work with our entire community in innovative ways, even as our social environment changes.”

Peterborough Concert Series canceled their scheduled show for Friday with the James Montgomery Band with Johnny A. and The Uptown Horns, much like they did with the Enter the Haggis and Ishna show last Friday. In an effort to continue the good vibes of music, PCS is posting videos from past performances at the Peterborough Town House on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/peterboroughconcertseries.

Movie showings at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre and Peterborough Community Theatre have been suspended, which includes two New Hampshire premiers as part of the Jewish Film Festival in Peterborough.

The Toadstool Bookshop postponed its two events on Saturday, the first featuring Andrew Krivak, the author of “The Bear”, who owns a home in Jaffrey, and Houmann Oshidari’s demonstration of carved letters in stone using the traditional old school way, by hand with mallet and chisel.

Grand Monadnock Youth Choir has suspended all rehearsals until at least the second week of April. The organization is considering online learning, including musical tips and singing videos.

The Monadnock Quilters’ Guild has canceled its monthly meeting on Friday, March 20 at Divine Mercy Church in Peterborough, featuring special guest speaker Jane Oneail. The March 21 Monadnock Writers Group event featuring young poets has been canceled, along with Dorothy Yanish’s vocal recital at Bass Hall on March 29 and the Black Fly Story Hour of March 27.

And the list goes on...




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