In a season unlike any other, the Performing Arts Center’s director reflects on the past year and plans for the future.
The 2020-21 UGA Presents season concluded on May 11 with the final performance in our Studio HH concert series. Studio HH was our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented global event that forced live performance venues across the world to close unexpectedly and touring artists to stay home. As the pandemic unfolded, my staff and I collaborated on ways in which we could continue to provide quality arts experiences to our community even though we weren’t able to welcome you into the building. Our pivot to digital programming gave us the opportunity to continue to connect with our audiences and helped keep us all safe during this unique and challenging time.
The Studio HH season ended up being quite robust. It continued to evolve over the course of the fall and spring into a significant undertaking. We, along with much of the live performance industry, found ourselves inventing and learning as we went along. Ultimately, the season featured 35 performances in a variety of formats by a wide array of professional performing artists. Some of the programs were created and produced by us, while in other cases we licensed and/or distributed programs produced by others. Highlights included 12 performances by our friends at New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center as well as performances by L.A. Theatre Works, Kathy Mattea, VOCES8, and Tenebrae.
Arts Chats, a conversation series featuring discussions with musicians and theatre artists, featured insights from Lea Salonga, Wynton Marsalis, Robert Spano, Wu Han, Anthony McGill, Amber Iman, Jennifer Koh, and Frank Wildhorn. The full library of Arts Chats can be viewed on the Performing Arts Center’s YouTube channel.
Though live performances with in-person audiences were few and far between, we did manage to stage a few of them—and how wonderful they were! It was thrilling to hear live music in Hodgson Concert Hall performed by local musicians including the Peachtree String Quartet, violinist Itamar Zorman, Revien, pianist David Fung, and the Lysander Trio. Our live performance series concluded recently with special visits by our first out-of-state guest artists in 13 months: pianist Maxim Lando on April 2 and singer-songwriter David Archuleta on April 23.
Online attendance can never fully replicate the in-person experience, but I did see several positive outcomes from our digital programming. First, we were able to expand the reach of the Performing Arts Center to new audiences. The World Wide Web truly has global reach, and we experienced this first hand as people from as close as Athens, Watkinsville, and Atlanta, and as far away as Toronto, Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, Israel, and the UK tuned in to enjoy our broadcasts.
Another benefit of these in-person performances was the opportunity for our staff, students, and artists to continue working at what they do best while we implemented, tested, and refined important safety protocols that guided our plans to welcome the return of audiences as the pandemic progressed.
This has been an extremely challenging time for everyone involved in the arts. We have mourned as our creative endeavors came to a standstill. More importantly, we have mourned as our families, friends, and neighbors were impacted by illness, loss, and financial hardship. Additionally, social injustices captured our attention during this time, causing personal reflection and public action and bringing heartache, frustration, and anger to people here in our community and throughout the world.
As pandemic restrictions begin to ease and more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, we look forward to coming together again in person as the arts provide opportunities for us to gather in meaningful ways. In some cases these experiences will help us to examine our feelings and emotions as well as our biases, while at other times they will help us escape and forget our worries for a short while. Most of all, they will provide joy, hope, and empathy—things we can all surely use a bit more of right now.
And so, we are preparing. Planning a live performance season takes a long time, and we are currently putting the final touches on a vibrant, diverse, full season of in-person performances for the 2021-22 season—our 25th Anniversary. We plan to share the full schedule with you at the end of June and are optimistic that performances will begin in early October at full capacity (assuming COVID-19 conditions at that time allow us to do so) and continue through May of next year.
We have missed you and cannot wait to welcome you back to our beautiful campus venues once again! Thank you for your support. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Photo: Kent Hannon