Irvine Barclay Theatre adds jazz to livestream watch lists

Francisco Torres and his ensemble kicked off Irvine Barclay Theatre's online jazz concert series.
Francisco Torres, a veteran trombonist-bandleader-composer, and his ensemble kicked off Irvine Barclay Theatre’s online jazz concert series.
(Courtesy of Irvine Barclay Theatre)

In tune with venues that have garnered the resources to grow in the digital space, the Irvine Barclay Theatre is offering new livestream concerts.

A series of performances, filmed at the theater, kicked off with the Francisco Torres Latin Jazz Quintet on March 6. It will be followed by Bryan Cabrera Trio with Edmund Velasco on March 13 and Joey Sellers Quintet on March 20.

The free series is sponsored by the Recording Industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund and Orange County Musicians Union Local 7. The union selected the musicians featured in the series, many of whom rely on work in nightclubs and restaurants that have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic closures.

Musicians are filmed with six cameras in the nearly empty venue by the theater’s in-house team.

Jerry Mandel, president of the Irvine Barclay Theatre, said they established a team focusing on recording to put performances on livestream, subscription format and to use in promotional videos. Mandel calls it a work in progress and plans to make video a mainstay part of the theater.

“We’re still learning how to do this,” Mandel said. “By the end of the spring or summer, we’ll have regular series. We’re now reaching out to some of the top musicians in the country to see if they want to do this sort of thing. It’s not going to be something we just did during the COVID [pandemic].”

Performances are shot live at the Irvine venue by the theater's in-house team.
Performances are shot live at the Irvine venue by the theater’s in-house team.
(Courtesy of Irvine Barclay Theatre)

The 750-seat venue, located on the UC Irvine campus, typically hosts music, dance, theater and lectures. Staff have spent the past year figuring out how to bring performances to audiences in new ways.

“I concluded about two months into COVID that whatever happens in the future, it’s not going to be the same as it was before…we can’t be just a building that present shows,” Mandel said.

For 11 weeks last summer, the theater brought a live jazz concert series to outdoor dining at Newport Beach’s Bayside Restaurant. In the fall, they partnered with the city to host a drive-in concerts at Orange County Great Park featuring True Willie and the Boys, the Mariachi Divas as well as ballet folklórico and Bollywood performances.

More partnerships are on the horizon. Mandel said they are working with various community arts groups. They’ve announced a ticketed “Nat Geo Live: Mysterious Seas” live event on March 31 and a performance in conjunction with the Torrance Cultural Arts Center featuring Grammy-nominated pianist and composer David Benoit on April 3.

The theater, with a staff of about 15, has been able to avoid layoffs and furloughs. They’ve received two coronavirus relief loans as well as financial help from UC Irvine and the city.

“We’re not doing great financially, but we’re not losing a lot,” Mandel said. “We’re going to come out of it and open the next year in good shape.”

They also launched a fundraising campaign last November to protect staff jobs. In four months, the campaign exceeded their goal and raised more than $320,000. They plan on using the additional funds to purchase new equipment.

A plaza for outdoor shows may be completed by June and could serve as a lifeline for dance companies.

The Festival Ballet Theatre performs more than 20 shows at the Barclay. Last March, dancers had rehearsed for months and new sets were created for a sold-out “Swan Lake” that closed before opening day due to the pandemic. The group rescheduled the production for the fall, but ended up canceling again.

Festival Ballet Theatre's Swan Lake
Festival Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake” was cancelled throughout 2020.
(Dave Friedman)

In December, the company planned an outdoor production of their annual “The Nutcracker,” their biggest moneymaker that supports productions later in the season. But it was canceled about a week before opening day when outdoor activities were shut down in California.

Some audience members donated the money they’d paid for their tickets rather than seeking a refund. The Festival Ballet Theatre then held an online auction to help pay for company expenses and the dancers who rehearsed for the canceled productions in 2020.

Salwa Rizkalla, founder and artistic director of Festival Ballet Theatre, said only one paid staff member is working in the office and most of the dancers the company works with have filed for unemployment.

The dance studio is kept open for classes limited in size and individual dancers who need to keep in shape or produce their own video auditions.

Rizkalla anticipates a good summer. She said she’s received her COVID-19 vaccination and she feels hopeful. As long as they are able to produce “The Nutcracker” in 2021, the company will stay afloat.

“Love of dance is in their blood,” Rizkalla said. “They will keep working in any environment — out in the parking lot whenever they are able to. All of us are really striving to stay alive and keep classical ballet alive.”

If you watch

What/When: Bryan Cabrera Trio with Edmund Velasco on March 13 at 4 p.m., Joey Sellers Quintet on March 20 at 4 p.m.
Where: Online
Cost: Free (RSVP required)

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