Lovers of the performing arts can explore the AT&T Performing Arts Center from their living rooms at the Center’s YouTube channel, ATTPAC@home.
The nonprofit operates three performance venues in the Dallas Arts District: the Winspear Opera House, Wyly Theatre, Strauss Square and a public green space, Sammons Parks. All venues closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Shows and events were quickly cancelled or postponed.
The creation of ATTPAC@home grew out of the staff’s desire for audiences to remain connected to the art they love. “The staff is so creative. They are so passionate about what they do and having that ability to share it helps right now,” Debbie Storey, President and CEO of AT&T Performing Arts Center, said.
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The YouTube channel is a collection of behind-the-scenes looks at past performances, interviews with cast and crews, architectural tours through different venues and even a traditional Indian dance tutorial. The videos are designed to give audiences a different perspective of places they have come to love since the Center opened in 2009. “So much of what we’re showing is backstage views that we’ve never shared before,” Storey said.
Some of the content plays a practical role: education. “We’re creating a lot of educational content. There are a lot of people who are homeschooling as well as trying to work from home. We want to help,” Storey said. The channel is the digital arm of Open Stages, the Center's arts education program and features arts and crafts videos, drawing lessons and Backstage Spotlight Tech Talks, the Center’s technical theatre education program for students.
The YouTube channel reveals hidden gems within the Center’s walls. “We have this very long backstage ‘L’ shaped hall and every actor, speaker, and performer signs this hall. Some are just signatures, but some are notes. We have hundreds of them,” Storey said.
The Center is sharing special moments of casts from touring Broadway shows singing backstage. Storey recalls the poignant performance by the cast of The Band’s Visit in February, just before the pandemic changed everything. “We have the cast backstage singing ‘Answer Me,’ Storey said. “It was a beautiful, very moving performance.” The national touring production of the Tony Award-winning musical is one of several Broadway tours forced to cancel or postpone touring dates due to the pandemic.
Tour managers are scrambling to rebuild complicated touring schedules across the nation for 2021 and beyond. The touring production of Hamilton, initially planned to appear at Bass Hall in Fort Worth this summer, has been postponed until January 2022. “If you’re a Broadway tour manager, it’s like trying to build a bridge with toothpicks across a chasm and every once in a while, you lose one,” Storey said.
The staff is preparing for when they can welcome audiences in-person. “We spend a lot of time developing different scenarios. We are very focused on the health and safety of our patrons from the time they park in the garage to when they leave,” Storey said.
The Center is following recommendations from health and government officials and considering reduced capacity scenarios, different seating options, foodservice issues and establishing traffic flow patterns with lines on the floor. Storey noted 70% of the Center’s budget comes from ticket revenue, parking, and concessions. With all revenue essentially stopping in March, Storey anticipates the Center will present less expensive productions with smaller casts in the future. “The entire operating model will have to change,” Storey said. “Every industry goes through a time when it has to reinvent itself. Now is our time to get creative.”
This YouTube channel is part of the reinvention. Even once the Center reopens, Storey predicts the staff will keep the content available, especially the educational features, and will continue to develop new content. “I think it will be a very interesting augmentation of what we do in the theater,’ Storey said. “We always look for ways to engage with audiences.”
Storey’s favorite feature on ATTPAC@home is about the Winspear Opera House’s spectacular chandelier. Approximately 15 minutes before each show, the glittering chandelier made of 318 LED light rods rises to music composed by a student at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Once fully retracted, the chandelier creates a canopy of twinkling stars in the night sky. The ascent of the chandelier featured on ATTPAC@home is filmed from the stage. “It’s a view the audience doesn’t get to see,” Storey said.
Storey becomes emotional thinking about the chandelier, longing to watch the dramatic ascent with a live audience. “It is one of the most special, magnificent parts of coming to the Center,” Storey said. “For me, I can look at that video. I can imagine being back in the theater when it happens again.”
Watch ATTPAC@home: https://www.youtube.com/c/attpac
Learn more about AT&T Performing Art Center’s schedule: https://www.attpac.org/