Supporting Our Campus
Photo: Peter Nguyen
In addition to the artists we present and the audiences we host at visiting artist performances, Meany Center has a third, very important, constituency we serve: the University of Washington campus community.
In a normal year, our theater is a laboratory for faculty and students in the schools of music, dance and drama. COVID-19 seemingly made live performance impossible — but artists are nothing if not tenacious in the face of long odds.
With the help of Meany Center’s ace stage crew, the students and faculty in our performing arts units found ways not only to perform together live but also to share their performances with audiences via livestream.
How does an orchestra rehearse in person while following COVID-19 safety protocols?
The instruments in the UW Wind Ensemble were the most difficult to accommodate because they produce aerosols. So, it was the instruments instead of the players who wore masks: bags over the instruments’ bells to minimize the aerosols expelled.
To maintain social distance, both the UW Symphony and the UW Wind Ensemble worked in small groups of six to nine musicians scattered across large spaces in Meany Hall, including the stage, the West Lobby and one of the classrooms. The horn ensemble, meanwhile, played outdoors, on the patios outside the West Lobby and the Greenroom, and sometimes on our loading dock.
Almost Live From Meany
With generous support from the Floyd and Dolores Jones Endowed Fund, Meany Center was able to construct a new recording system that included multiple cameras and lighting specifically intended for television, allowing us to build a modified TV studio inside the theater.
Stage lighting and television lighting are very different because cameras “see” differently from the human eye. With the new system, we used TV instead of stage lighting when we created digital content — which made for a better visual experience for viewers.
The benefits of the new “Jones System” extended far beyond the Meany Center Visiting Artists program, however. Between October 2020 and June 2021, Meany Center recorded or livestreamed more than 60 performances by students and faculty in the School of Music, Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) department and the Department of Dance.
When the UW Symphony Orchestra decided to livestream a performance with multicamera shots, our tech team didn’t have enough time or staff to stage-manage the event for them — so they decided to teach the orchestra how to do it themselves.
Working with three Ph.D. conducting students, the tech team taught them how to look at the musical score and script the shots they wanted, so the performance was not just about how it is heard, but also about how it is seen.
It turns out being a music conductor requires much the same mindset as a video director — you have to know where you’re going before you start.
Normally it takes years and years to develop the necessary skills, but according to our crew, those three Ph.D. candidates are now able to direct videos after just a few months, adding yet another talent to their portfolios.
In 2020, Meany Center joined with the School of Music to nominate Ethiopian American singer and musician Meklit to speak on How Music Connects Us: Belonging, Wellbeing, and Sonic Lineage, as part of the UW Graduate School lecture series.
Meklit was originally scheduled to speak in person at Kane Hall. Instead, she delivered her talk via livestream to an audience that was geographically scattered. And yet, there was something undeniably intimate about watching her from our own cocoons as she sat alone in her studio, joyously exploring how to make connections through music.
This wasn’t a “talk” to an audience; it was a conversation among friends.