Arts without walls

The case for pop-up performances by a new kind of small, flexible companies. The economy, and audiences, may call for it.

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(Former) home of the New York City Opera

The case for pop-up performances by a new kind of small, flexible companies. The economy, and audiences, may call for it.

Town Hall, which some of us helped get started in 1998, was originally thought to be a solution for "homeless" musical organizations who had no steady home and couldn't afford, individually, to build one. So we found a place where these gypsy groups — Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Ladies Musical Club, Seattle Camerata, Early Music Guild — could have a common home. Worked out well, even though several of those groups ultimately perished.

Today, the need might be just the opposite. What might make sense for some struggling arts groups is a pop-up approach, where these groups find different venues that match the mood and ambience for different works, varying sizes of ensembles. It's part of the steady trend toward smaller performance spaces, lower overhead, and non-traditional spaces (like taverns) for informal performances.

The idea is on the table for New York City Opera, which has just announced its plan to abandon the grand but acoustically mismatched New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. Some other companies have hopped around while their main home is being renovated. Here's how Washington Post critic Anne Midgette puts it:

"The interesting question right now is where this leaves City Opera, which, if it survives at all, looks to be positioning itself as the kind of small, flexible company that I keep saying is exactly what we need in the future. Will it find a single home, or become the equivalent of a pop-up opera company, finding venues around the city appropriate to different works? In practical terms, this is probably impossible, but theoretically, the idea has enough interest and appeal (witness Lincoln Center’s periodic forays to the Park Avenue Armory and elsewhere) to be worth exploring."

Maybe this is an idea for the reborn Intiman Theater? Or how about aspects of this approach for smaller ensembles of the Seattle Symphony under its new leadership?

It's already being put to good use by one new group, Pacific MusicWorks, started by Stephen Stubbs and showing up at Town Hall, the Daniels Recital Hall (the old downtown Methodist Church), St. Mark's, The Moore, and even in garden-party concerts. London now does miniaturized operas in pubs. Donald Byrd's admirable Spectrum Dance Theatre hops around and looks for large open spaces where the audience, as well as the dancers, move around a lot.

It's important to remember that there was classical music before there were concert halls. Some of Beethoven's quartets were first performed in taverns in Vienna.


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