Out of the Boxes | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Out of the Boxes 

A coronoaversary round of applause to how local arts groups innovated during a crazy year.

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  • Sonderimmersive

We all remember where we were, and how it felt, when the COVID-19 pandemic truly hit home a year ago this week. Businesses and schools shut down, toilet paper became more precious than gold and we became very aware of how much we did or didn't like the people we were stuck in our homes with.

Arts organizations in particular were forced to scramble in a world where isolation was the norm; how could you adjust a paradigm built on shared experiences of creative work? But as hard as the past 12 months have been on so many such organizations, they've also shown remarkable resilience and creativity in figuring out how to continue their missions and connect with their communities. While we all eagerly anticipate returning to the things we miss from The Time Before—and see a faint light at the end of a vaccine-illuminated tunnel—here's a nod to just some of the many ways that local arts groups kept on working in safe, innovative ways.

Salt Lake Film Society virtual cinema: When movie theaters shut down for safety reasons, most of us relied on streaming services—but what about new releases? In conjunction with many art-house cinemas around the country, Salt Lake Film Society pivoted to a "virtual cinema" model, providing many of the same independent American, documentary and foreign-language films they did previously, in a hybrid of on-demand and scheduled streaming screenings that has provided more than 150 features so far. slfsathome.org

SONDERimmersive drive-in theater: How do you put on a play when gathering in a traditional theater space isn't prudent? What if you allowed people to stay in their cars and performed all around them. Finding unique theater spaces was nothing new to the creative folks at SONDERimmersive, but they took it to a new level with Through Yonder Window, an interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet mounted in a parking garage, with attendees listening to the soundtrack on their car radios while the actors moved through the space, adding another dimension to a story of lovers divided. The production returns in April for more performances. sonderimmersive.com

Virtual author events via The King's English and Weller Book Works: Quarantine would seem like a perfect time for people to catch up on their reading, and indeed people continued to support local booksellers through online sales. But while physical stores remained closed, in-person author events weren't possible. Bookstores nationwide shifted to a model that brought writers into our homes for virtual conversations, often allowing the opportunity for interaction and Q&As. kingsenglish.com, wellerbookworks.com

Ballet West's The Nutcracker televised performance: The strange holiday season of 2020 might feel even stranger without some of our most cherished traditions. While the closure of Salt Lake County arts venues forced the cancellation of Ballet West's beloved annual production ofThe Nutcracker, the company presentthe balletcommercial-free on KSL over three nights, and via KSL's app. The legendary choreography of Ballet West co-founder William Christensen was able to come directly into our homes, and leave us feeling a little less dreary. balletwest.org

UMOCA's Lawn Gnomes 2020: As the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art remained closed, they began serving the community through "Art Everyday" videos encouraging at-home art projects for families. But they also worked in conjunction with Granary Art Center on the in-real-life art experience of Lawn Gnomes, inviting people to drive around to various locations where local artists had created installations for their front yards. As "screen fatigue" set in, it was wonderful to have an opportunity to be out in the world connecting directly with art. utahmoca.org

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and Repertory Dance Theatre's Double Take: Despite respectively being vital parts of the Utah arts scene for decades, Ririe-Woodbury and RDT had never worked together. The pandemic provided the nudge that turned into a joint season-premiere back in September, as the companies drew on the experience of recording their work for the Rose Exposed showcase. The dancers and creative teem adapted to the new circumstances, offering "dance for the camera" that provided the seed for other creative approaches to virtual productions. ririewoodbury.com, rdtutah.org

And this is just a starting point, with many other innovations like Plan-B Theatre Company's audio-only season, other museums and art galleries bringing their exhibitions into online spaces, a virtual Sundance Film Festival, Salt Lake Acting Company's collaboration with Round House Theater on the live Zoom production American Dreams and so many more. Be prepared to reward these organizations for all they've done for us by supporting them—in whatever manner feels safest to you, whenever you are able—so that innovative artistry can continue to thrive in Utah.

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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