Essential Arts: Tell us how you’re consuming art in the pandemic

Sleight of hand and storytelling savvy made Helder Guimarães, shown in a double exposure image, a pandemic hit.
Sleight of hand and storytelling savvy made Helder Guimarães, pictured here in a double exposure image taken at Griffith Park, a pandemic theater hit for Geffen Playhouse.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, I’m Makeda Easter, one of Carolina A. Miranda’s colleagues on the Arts desk of The Times. In the months ahead, we’ll all be occasionally lending a hand to share everything that’s essential in arts. Don’t worry — Carolina will be back in the writer’s seat most of the time! But this week, I’ll kick things off with a somewhat embarrassing story.

A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of a virtual theater show — which won’t be named — when I realized I was not being a good audience member. Lying on my couch wrapped in a blanket, I squeezed two windows onto my laptop screen — one for watching the performance and the other for doomscrolling Twitter.

All of this happened while I was texting friends and checking Instagram. (I know, I know.)


It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the show, but in the confines of my home, I’m easily distracted. Even though virtual and distanced shows will be part of our reality for the near future, I’m ambivalent.

Arts organizations are valiantly continuing to create in these challenging times, but pandemic-era shows are just not the same as experiencing work live, in person, with others. On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about the beauty of accessibility, how art in the digital space can remove the arbitrary barriers that have historically excluded marginalized communities from the theater space.

I’m not alone in my mixed feelings. In a piece about Zoom theater, Times critic Charles McNulty wrote, “Digital theater is offered as a consolation, but so much of the work inadvertently underscores the social isolation of the pandemic.”

Times critic Mark Swed wrote about the Los Angeles Philharmonic putting out work on radio, television, CD, streaming video and vinyl during the pandemic, saying, “Each in its own way reminds us of what we’re missing. But each also adds a dimension. Blessings are very much mixed.”

We want to hear your take. How have your habits as an audience member changed during the pandemic? And what do you think of shows you’ve seen since March, whether viewed remotely at home or seen in person, perhaps at a distanced outdoor affair or a drive-in performance?

Please fill out our short survey and let us know. We plan to use the results in a future article.

Here’s what else is going on in the world of arts:

Museums are hurting

This week, the American Alliance of Museums released its second survey on the effects of the pandemic, and the results are not pretty, reports my colleague Deborah Vankin.

Eight hundred fifty museum directors answered the question: “Do you believe there is a significant risk of your museum closing permanently in the next 12 months, absent additional financial relief?” Of those, 12% said yes, 17% said they were not sure, and the rest said no.

“It’s having a devastating effect on museums,” AAM President Laura Lott said of the closures. “And it’s not getting any better.”

Fingers crossed, for next summer and fall

For Los Angeles Opera, the target for resuming in-person performances is now fall 2021, reports Jessica Gelt.

Inside an empty Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Opera estimates that it has lost $31 million so far in earned and contributed revenue from productions and performances canceled because of the coronavirus. With its 2021-22 season announcement, the company joins New York’s Metropolitan Opera in banking on a September reopening.

“While we are saddened to lose in-person programming for the spring, we are heartened by the increasingly promising news of effective vaccines and are extremely optimistic about the fall,” said L.A. Opera’s president and CEO, Christopher Koelsch.

Center Theatre Group is making a bet on summer with a revised seven-show 2021-22 season for the Ahmanson Theatre, starting in August with director Daniel Fish’s reimagined “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!” That addition, however, also comes with a subtraction: Aaron Sorkin’s much-heralded, box-office-record-breaking adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” gets pushed to a future season.

Frieze Los Angeles, normally staged in February, also is planning for summer, postponing its 2021 art fair to late July. To improve distancing among fairgoers, Frieze is moving from the Paramount backlot to multiple venues and architectural landmarks throughout the city.

Relief at home

Gov. Gavin Newsom may have issued an overnight curfew for most of California but there’s no shortage of online concerts, streaming theater productions and virtual art exhibitions to keep you entertained at home day and night.

Matt Cooper had the scoop on the latest digital lineup, including a star-studded adaptation of Chekhov streaming through Sunday, a streamed recital by pianist Lang Lang and “Violins of Hope,” a concert newly available online featuring musicians performing on restored instruments that belonged to Holocaust victims and survivors.

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Desperate to get out? The arts team also has a quick rundown of in-person cultural destinations and events. Be sure to plan ahead.

An Alcatraz artifact

The cover of the Alcatraz Log Book features names and drawings and the words "INDIAN LAW" in capital letters in red ink.
The cover of the Alcatraz Log Book (1969), which recorded visitors to Alactraz Island during the Indigenous occupation of the site from 1969 to 1971.
(Sharon Rogers and Marshall McKay / Autry Museum)

The Alcatraz Logbook, on view on the Autry Museum of the American West’s website, is filled with thousands of entries by the people who occupied Alcatraz for 19 months starting in 1969 in the name of Indigenous civil rights.

In her column about the Logbook, Carolina A. Miranda writes, “It is an artifact of an earlier era of protest that speaks powerfully to our own through the individual signatures of ordinary people who worked collectively to bring about change.”

Theater notes

Michael Riedel is the veteran New York Post Broadway columnist who “has chronicled with incendiary flamboyance the backstage dramas of megalomaniacal producers, peremptory divas and the cowering artists caught in the crossfire,” McNulty writes.

Check out his review of Riedel’s latest book, “Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway,” which chronicles how New York’s theater district became a global brand in the 1990s.

McNulty also reviews “Citizen Detective,” a new interactive online whodunit produced by the Geffen Playhouse.

A classical recommendation

Illustration of Philip Glass
Philip Glass
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Swed gives his latest weekly recommendation of recorded music to help get you through pandemic times. This week: “Einstein on the Beach” by composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson, which Swed says is “easily the most important opera of the last half century.”

L.A. Opera partnered with the Colburn School to stage its first opera since the beginning of spring. Read Swed’s review of “The Anonymous Lover,” an opera by Joseph Bologne, widely regarded as the first known Black classical composer.

In other news

Season 4 of Netflix’s “The Crown” takes on the Princess Diana years, including a surprise “Uptown Girl” performance at the Royal Opera House in 1985. Read the real life story of Diana’s surprise dance with ballet star Wayne Sleep.

A new book from music historian Jeff Gold chronicles the rich history of jazz clubs in L.A. and across the country in the 1940s and ‘50s.

When she was alive, Debbie Reynolds begged Hollywood to preserve and exhibit her enormous collection of costumes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rejected her request five times. Now, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is naming its conservation studio after the late star.

A little bit of beauty for your feed

Whenever a post from L.A.-based dancer and choreographer Mike Tyus pops up on Instagram, I always pause to watch. Meditatively gorgeous, his dance videos always make me marvel at the power of the human body.

Essential Arts will be on holiday next weekend, but the newsletter will be back with Carolina A. Miranda in the writer’s seat on Dec. 4. Happy Thanksgiving!