Best of the Burgh: The Show Must Go On
City of Asylum launches a city-spanning series of virtual performances to support — and build — community.
Every arts organization has been forced to innovate under the pandemic. Many organizations have brought shows and programming to audiences virtually, seeking to remain connected while doors are closed.
While every effort is commendable, City of Asylum changed one key word in that sentence. While most organizations have brought their programming to virtual audiences, City of Asylum has brought everyone’s work home.
Since May, the North Side organization, which focuses on the protection and celebration of artistic and personal expression, has presented The Show Must Go On(line), a nearly nightly selection of virtual content. Some nights have featured the organization’s own live and archived programming; most nights, however, feature content from organizations throughout the city. In its first two months, The Show Must Go On(line) has given the stage to more than 15 different arts organizations, including the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, ReelQ, Boom Concepts, the New Hazlett Theater, 1Hood Media and River City Brass Band.
“Even in our venue, Alphabet City, we’ve always thought of ourselves as a home for others,” says Abby Lembersky, City of Asylum’s director of programs. “Both for other voices, but also for other organizations.”
A monthly calendar (at alphabetcity.org/show) lists upcoming shows; events, all of which are free. The platform also includes a sidebar chat window, allowing audiences to discuss the show as it occurs.
Lembersky says the series is designed to keep audiences interconnected, despite physical distance. “How are we building community? How are we providing connection for people and gathering people together?” Those, she says, were key questions in deciding what to offer during the COVID-19 crisis. “It feels incorrect to take a pause on that in the middle of a pandemic.
“In fact, it feels more important to offer opportunities to connect and experience emotion together, now more than ever.”
Theater company RealTime Interventions began presenting a new, collaborative experience, “Associate,” through The Show Must Go On(line) in late May. Artistic Director Molly Rice says the series offers not only a temporary solution but an opportunity. “We have been looking every year for ways to connect different arts organizations in this city. … The idea that it’s a shared channel for the region was very powerful for us.”
The series is set to continue at least through the summer, with new organizations being incorporated throughout; in the series’ second month, programming from Black Unicorn Library & Archives Project, Dreams of Hope and the Frick Pittsburgh was added to the schedule, as were conversations led by writer Damon Young. Lembersky stresses that support from local foundations was critical in making The Show Must Go On(line) a sustainable project; the organization hopes to use that investment to experiment with how this programming can inform Alphabet City’s events even when audiences return.
“What we are starting to say is that the arts feel central to our humanity. The arts are vital for a just and generous society; we felt like it was important to continue to work and to fight for that.”