On June 19th, 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, a crew of riggers and technicians gathered at the stage door outside the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC. This was our first onstage production since the shutdown, and although the red velvet seats would remain empty, we were determined to reconnect the artists with their audience in a pioneering amalgam of internet and broadcast technologies.
Plexiglass panels, flown from the grid to separate the artists, were all but invisible to the six cameras used to capture the show. We installed a series of large screen TV’s in the orchestra pit to create a video wall where we could bring in a remote audience. COVID protocols were negotiated to ensure that the artists and the crew would remain safe throughout the production.
“Juneteenth: A Day of Remembrance” was hosted by Sweet Honey In The Rock, whose powerful live performance was interwoven with the voices of artists and activists who contributed pre-recorded clips or participated in a post-show Q&A. The event served as a fundraiser for the Equal Justice Initiative and concertgoers were invited to participate in one of two ways: they could buy a ticket and “be seen” as part of our interactive audience, or watch anonymously for free on social media.
The event aired live and was immediately removed from social media. It was important to us and to the artists that it exist as a dignified moment in time - a shared ephemeral experience. Too often, artists’ work loses its potency and becomes mere flotsam in the sea of digital media we now consume. A coalition of venues and presenters promoted the event which reached more than 100K viewers on Facebook and YouTube. Perhaps more importantly, we sold out the interactive audience, reaching our 1000 seat capacity days before the show.
From the stage, the performers looked out beyond the lights to see hundreds enthusiastic faces returning their gaze. The audience was digital but fully present; responding by clapping, dancing, and singing along - providing the reciprocal energy that is the lifeblood of live performance.
It was an awakening for us. We began to understand that there is an exciting new world of possibility emerging during this challenging time. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of live performance, but a space is opening that enables us to connect in intimate ways and offers a brighter and more equitable future for artists, presenters, and audiences alike.
We invite you to join us in the exploration.