ASU Gammage, Kerr keep performances alive digitally amid COVID-19

New programming at ASU Gammage includes interactive virtual experiences, Q&As and performances

When the lights went dark across theaters nationwide amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ASU Gammage's touring Broadway productions were no exception. However, while the stage stays dark, artists are finding ways to present live theater through a screen.

ASU Cultural Affairs, which includes Gammage and ASU Kerr, continues to host virtual performances, lectures, workshops and Q&As to keep audiences connected with the theater.

Kerr is a historic Scottsdale venue willed to the University by Louise Lincoln Kerr, a composer and violist known as "The Grand Lady of Arizona Music," who helped organize several Arizona musical groups.

Today, Kerr is operated underneath ASU Cultural Affairs and hosts live music, storytelling and theater events. Due to the pandemic, Kerr currently produces live-streamed events to continue to promote engagement with the arts.

Some of Kerr's upcoming events include a performance by Rob Riccardo as part of Kerr's live, online music "Beams" series and "Tuesday Morning Music and Tea," which will be co-presented alongside the ASU School of Music.

Upcoming events from Gammage include a digital performance of "Dancing Earth," which first hit Gammage's stage in January and will now be online, and "TAIKOPROJECT," a performance of Japanese drumming.

“This whole thing has been fascinating because people everywhere are trying to figure out how to stay connected culturally,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of Gammage and vice president for cultural affairs. “Gammage’s goal is still to bring communities together.”

The theater’s shutdown in March was almost immediate so protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19 could be developed. 

Just like the rest of the University, Gammage fell into stride with Zoom meetings and an uncertainty about the theater's operations in the fall, but staff at Gammage knew they wanted to continue to produce content for the public no matter what.

“We wanted to tell other people’s stories,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “We created an online form for people to submit personal stories, so that we could share them in our virtual experiences.”

One of the most recent virtual experiences was “American Dreams,” an interactive game show normally performed on-stage, but has been adapted to fit a virtual platform.

“It was beautiful to hear people share during the show, and we’ll definitely be putting on more productions like that as time goes on,” Jennings-Roggensack said.

Gammage has hosted a series of lectures, or Master Classes, since April and has also hosted Broadway stars from Arizona such as Krystina Alabado from "Mean Girls" and Sam Primack from "Dear Evan Hansen."

Stacey Bailey, program coordinator for ASU Kerr, said Kerr has co-presented "long-running programs and series" with Gammage, and she didn't want to lose that momentum amid the pandemic.

“It’s honestly equal parts concert and meet-and-greet,” Bailey said. “Viewers are engaging with artists by submitting comments and asking questions which has been great.”

While most of Kerr and Gammage's events are free to tune-in to, Bailey said a priority was still to "provide paid gigs to our artists. So, we were excited for the challenge."

Still, until it's safe to return to the theater, the stages will remain closed.

After having to cancel or postpone seven Broadway shows, including "Hamilton," which was set to hit the stage in October but is now scheduled for September 2021, Gammage is gearing up to kick off the new Broadway season in February with "My Fair Lady." 

But that all depends "if the state of the world allows it," Jennings-Roggensack said.

McKenzie Hayes, a Gammage event attendant, said it's been strange to see the auditorium so empty, and she's ready for its return.

"I absolutely can't wait to see us open back up again," Hayes said. "Our productions are so beautiful and they've done well online, but there's something really special about witnessing them live."

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