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La Jolla Playhouse's WOW Festival Explores Site Specific Work From Quarantine

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La Jolla Playhouse's WOW or Without Walls Festival highlights site specific work. Now that everyone is sheltering at home the festival has gone online. The Playhouse's artistic director Christopher Ashley explains how the theater is putting content online.

Speaker 1: 00:00 LA Jolla Playhouse is wow. Or without walls. Festival highlights, site-specific work. Now that everyone is sheltering at home, the festival has gone online. KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando speaks with the playhouses artistic director, Christopher Ashley about wow. And the theaters. Other online offerings.

Speaker 2: 00:20 Christopher, like many of the other theaters here in San Diego, the Loya Playhouse has gone through some major adjustments due to this Corona virus pandemic. So what was this initial process like when you were told that the theater had to actually physically close? I was

Speaker 3: 00:38 in New York in previews for Diana on Broadway. And uh, the day that Broadway shut down was the same day that all the telephone calls with everyone at Loyola Playhouse. We made the decision to shut down both fly, which had just opened and also our pop tour, which tours to area schools. So between Diana two shows at the Playhouse, all five productions have come from away around the world. And a Margaret rigger bill tour. I actually shut down nine shows in one day,

Speaker 2: 01:10 which was a first for me. So one thing now that you're moving forward that is actually looking to creating new programming online is your wow, but without walls festival is finding life online. And what is this going to be like? So much of this,

Speaker 3: 01:28 it's actually been led by our staff in an extraordinary way. Um, they're all working virtually and everyone at lawyer Playhouse, their whole brain space is trying to wrap around how do we stay in contact, how do we keep our audiences and our artists talking to each other? Everyone at the Playhouse has been so proud of the without walls programming over the course of the last decade, I guess we started at eight years ago. We're four festivals in now and we've been doing this work not inside a theater, but out in the communities, either site-specific work or immersive work. We did two festivals at the Playhouse, one downtown and one at Liberty station. So it seemed like such a natural thing to take this work that's been out in the world, not inside a theater that's been inspired by stories inspired by a place and that it's reinvisioning the relationship between artist audience and story seemed like such a natural thing to say, well let's move that online. So we just announced our first four pieces of programming and um, while online and we've got a couple more in the pipeline. So yeah, a while there can be no in person public gatherings. Um, this seems like an amazing thing. An amazing and the artists we've talked to were all incredibly juiced and excited about making a new piece of art in this moment that helps people connect. So here we go, we're starting to do well online while we can't do it produce in our theaters.

Speaker 2: 02:57 Well that does seem a program that lends itself to almost any situation. So what is this going to be like for the audience? Are playwrights and actors going to be recording stuff at home individually? What's the kind of end product going to be like for the audience?

Speaker 3: 03:14 Everything you just mentioned is part of what we're doing. It's really being fair, are different artists are bringing different ideas to the table. One of the pieces that we're working on is from a San Diego based group called blind spot collective. And you may remember them, they did a piece in our 2019 festival called hall pass. So they're creating an audio piece entitled walks of life that imagines what life is like inside the houses you pass on your walk around the neighborhoods. You know, so many people get out of their house once a day to walk their dog or you know, to get a little fresh air. And it's a piece you can listen to imagining if you had to sort of x-ray vision what's happening inside of those houses. We're also, um, artists we've worked with before called uh, Brian Labell is adapting a piece that he has been working on for a couple of years called binge, which imagines finding solutions to life's problems through your favorite binge worthy TV show.

Speaker 3: 04:12 He basically does a little questionnaire with, with each audience member, one actor, one audience member at a time. Very intimate so he gets finds out about you through a questionnaire and then your session with him. Is he diagnosis, what episode of your favorite binge worthy show is a solution to your problems? So different actors will have different shows that they love. His is sex in the city so he will diagnose an episode of sex in the city for you and then watch it with you and talk about why a is an extraordinary answer to the what to what you're going through. That piece makes me, makes me laugh a lot and I can't wait to be one of the first Guinea pigs to give it a try as he's figuring out how it works online. Another local set of artists, Mike Sears and Lisa Berger who you may remember from our 2019 wild festival, how I the moon are offering a video installation that explores the relationship between the everyday routine and the ancients and will have a music aspect and there's something sort of meditative about that piece that I think may suit the moment very beautifully.

Speaker 3: 05:21 Also David Renoso, who's our artist in residence this year. It has a company called optica Moderna and he's developing a piece called Proyecto portfolio that takes audiences on an imaginative journey with all the same lushness that, that all of his pieces have theatrical surprise. And this piece has all kind of one on one connection with the actors that you also experienced it in his last piece. Let's continue. So, um, different artists are approaching how do you connect online in very, very different ways. But I think that's part of what's exciting about this moment, uh, in the wild programming is it's as different as the imaginative theatrical mind can make it. And at this moment audiences have time to spare. So looking forward to how this brings audiences and artists together to explore a story and explore the world right now. And I also, it's been interesting how many of the artists are really interested in making a piece that has a lot of optimism and open it. Like everybody is interested and adding a little bit more sun to the world. Right now. These pieces are in general, very helpful and very optimistic about how we're going to get through this together.

Speaker 2: 06:39 It's really been impressive to see how artists have been inspired by all that's going on to come up with creative ways of dealing with the pandemic.

Speaker 3: 06:49 I think that's right that I almost, every artist I know has called, texted, emailed. I haven't got a lot of snail mail, but reached out to me and said, what can we do right now? What can we make? Can I sing a cut song from one of my shows? Can I, uh, is there some kind of a, a new story I can tell they're all interested in helping the Playhouse get through this. But also there's all of this artistic energy, uh, and storytelling, energy and desire to explore the world, to get other and not feel too cut off at home that I think defines this moment.

Speaker 2: 07:24 So the wow programming is looking forward to creating new content. You're also kind of looking back at LA Jolla Playhouse events through your LJP vault. So what can people expect from this?

Speaker 3: 07:38 We have this wealth of pictures and video clips from shows that we've done. So artists and staff members and volunteers, we're asking them to pick one moment from one play that they have a particularly vivid memory of and we're releasing on them every week. So you're, you're getting to hear about, uh, Playhouse moments from a Playhouse show, from the point of view of someone who made that moment or someone for whom that was a real turning points in their life. So Deb hatch, I made a video piece about making the robots from Yoshimi a piece I love. I talked a little bit about our first wow festival and making a piece at the beach. And so look for them. The playoffs evolves to be every week.

Speaker 2: 08:22 And as with many theater companies, you have a lot of artists that you've worked with over time and you are turning to some of these people to create content online for what you're calling artist alley.

Speaker 3: 08:34 So many of the artists we work with have reached out and said, what can I do? What can I make? How can I stay in contact with, with our audiences? So several of the composers who have made up a Playhouse show are recording a cut song from um, one of the playoffs shows. We have all kinds of masterclasses. One of the audience favorites so far has been Kelly divine. The choreographer have come from away, made up masterclass of teaching the song from the screech in and then did a whole Q and a about it. She happened to be, when everything went down, she was vacationing in the Poconos with three other choreographers. So there was a kind of choreographer house, which someday is going to make a fantastic reality series. But in the meantime she made a masterclass about a comfortable way dance and I look for it as soon as um, piece of Sergio Trujillo, the choreographer of Jersey boys is making a masterclass of teaching. One of the sequences from Jersey boys,

Speaker 2: 09:33 Lauria playoffs is also continuing this education mission too through create and learn. So what kind of programs can people get or access through LA Jolla Playhouse in that respect?

Speaker 3: 09:44 So there's actually a really broad spectrum of work coming out of our education department for educators, for students. And for a broad audiences, two of the pieces that I'm the most excited about are just going online today. We have classes in improvisation and 10 minute playwriting. If you're a have a little time on your hands and want to write a new short play or learn a little bit about, um, amp prov technique, come check out our website

Speaker 2: 10:10 and having to physically close your theater, which is putting on live performances, how you create income for the theater. How are you feeling about the financial stability of the Playhouse at this time? And kind of looking forward to not knowing how long this may last. I feel like

Speaker 3: 10:27 as a manager at this moment, what everybody wants is some certainty, right? Everybody is like, how long is this going to go on? And the kind of wellbeing of our staff and our audiences is, has to be front of mind. So, you know, how do you keep everybody paid even when we're not going to be producing work live? Um, how do you make best use of the government, uh, programs cares and, and, um, the kind of beefed up unemployment and how do you balance our incredible desire to keep telling new stories with when the is going to open up again. And when people are gonna feel comfortable in public assembly again. And it's really hard to know how that will play out in time. You know, I've been so struck by every time you try to make a plan, the whole paradigm shifts every week, right? So you're, you're sort of replanning and we end up kind of making out, okay, here's the optimistic plan and then here's the Goldilocks plan and then here's the most pessimistic. Well, right now we are really trying to hold on to a six place season, which would start later and happen in a shorter period of time. But the possibilities of that are very much up to how the virus kind of plays out in time and decisions the government makes as well.

Speaker 1: 11:45 That was LA Jolla Playhouse as artistic director, Christopher Ashley speaking with Beth haka. Mondo the playhouses. Wow. Festival goes online in may. We'll have interviews with some of the artists next week about site-specific work from quarantine.

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