Our city’s beloved performing arts companies have been hit hard by COVID-19 closures. But they are working to stay afloat and keep on delivering fresh content to families at home.
I miss taking my kids to see the costumed Pam Mahon exuberantly and hilariously narrate one of the Kids Concerts at the Oregon Symphony. And watching superb kid actors onstage at Northwest Children’s Theater. And seeing storybooks come to life at Oregon Children’s Theatre. Being able to easily access so many kid-specific arts and culture experiences is one of the things that makes Portland such a family-friendly city. But COVID-19 has forced our performing arts companies to get even more creative than they usually are. Typically in our October issue, PDX Parent would bring you a sneak peek of upcoming kid-focused shows for winter and fall. However, most of the companies mentioned in this story have canceled in-person shows through January 2021. But they all do have some new online content in the works just for kids and families. And we’ve also included information on how you can help (if you are able to) these organizations continue to serve Portland families.
OREGON CHILDREN’S THEATRE
Oregon Children’s Theatre (OCT) has announced it will not produce in-person performances through at least May 2021. But while its curtains are closed, OCT has kept its social media buzzing. Both its Facebook and Instagram feeds are packed with great ideas for theater-loving families. And during the summer, OCT collaborated with Jelani Memory, Portland author of A Kids Book About Racism, and companies across the country to coproduce an online production called A Kids Play About Racism. OCT plans to produce more online shows through the next nine months and will again partner with other children’s theater organizations to coproduce shows that reach a wider audience nationwide. “When we coproduced A Kids Play About Racism, we saw many children’s theaters joining together, sharing resources and working to bring an important story to life in a way that was accessible for all children,” Artistic Director Marcella Crowson says. “That model was successful in many ways, and we are looking forward to creating new and strengthening existing relationships with other organizations around the country.” Meanwhile, the teens in the Young Professionals Company at OCT will go digital for all their shows this season. Look for In the Forest She Grew Fangs by Stephen Spotswood and a cabaret-style performance series called Breaking Character. Check octc.org for more info.
How You Can Help:
Oregon Children’s Theatre is asking anyone who has ever enjoyed one of its performances over the past three decades to make a donation so it can continue serving our community. And signing up kids for online Acting Academy classes is another way to help OCT during this time.
PORTLAND YOUTH PHILHARMONIC
The artistic team at Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP) is using the COVID-19 closure as an opportunity to do things differently — and right some wrongs. Saturday and Sunday, November 14-15, Portland Youth Philharmonic, the nation’s first and oldest youth orchestra, is launching its first-ever New Music Festival. This virtual concert will premiere 14 brand-new works that have come from the recently launched Youth Orchestra Commissioning Initiative. This initiative is addressing the systemic exclusion of composers of color and women from the standard classical repertoire head-on by showcasing new music composed primarily by artists identifying with those groups. “I am so happy to have written my piece Diversity for our wonderful musicians,” says Giancarlo Castro D’Addona, PYP’s wind ensemble conductor. “I created my piece [for trumpets, trombones and tuba] with many Latin rhythms and inspirations. You will hear elements of funk, samba, salsa and other Latin styles throughout the piece.” Tickets will be offered on a “pay what you can” fee structure. Also, All Classical Portland will air a prerecorded performance from PYP’s recent 96th season as part of its nine-part Fall into the Arts: A Radio Festival of Local Performances on Thursday, October 22, at 7 pm. And check back at portlandyouthphil.org for more info details about the 59th annual Concert at Christmas, a virtual performance slated for Saturday, December 26, at 7 pm.
How You Can Help:
All payments for tickets for the New Music Fest will count as a tax-deductible donation. And those who select ticket payments of $100 or more will also receive an acknowledgment letter in the mail. PYP also welcomes any donations to help its young musicians keep making music.
METROPOLITAN YOUTH SYMPHONY
Metropolitan Youth Symphony (MYS) is going virtual this season, and its fall shows will be broadcast through youtube.com/c/metropolitanyouthsymphony. The Fall Concert is slated for November 21. MYS will present the entirety of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites 1 & 2, with movements reordered to match Henrik Ibsen’s original play, and featuring narration recorded by students. The concert will also highlight music by American composers Florence Price and William Grant Still, and will close with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, performed by all MYS ensembles. The Holiday Spectacular Concert on December 23 will include collaboration with Oregon International Ballet Academy as students together perform select movements and dances from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, among other pieces.
How You Can Help:
There are a number of ways you can help the Metropolitan Youth Symphony bring music education to all kids; visit playmys.org/support-mys for more information.
NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATER
If you haven’t already checked out the online content from Northwest Children’s Theater and School (NWCT), you definitely need to. Associate artistic director and all-around creative mastermind John Ellingson leads super-fun daily video tutorials on how to make various puppets, do stage makeup, create balloon animals and much more. NWCT also has been providing entertaining five-day challenges like “dance the decades,” and “Theater Games Thursday” acting prompts that are sure to lead to hilarity. In terms of performances, NWCT is once again collaborating with award-winning choreographer Anita Menon and the Anjali School of Dance. Menon worked on the company’s productions of The Jungle Book and Tenali. NWCT and Menon will debut a brand-new online production this fall. Check nwcts.org for more details.
How You Can Help:
NWCT is asking theater fans to make a tax-deductible donation that will help NWCT continue to provide programming that is available, affordable and accessible to all children. Signing up for online theater classes for kids helps the company keep going, too.
OREGON BALLET THEATRE
Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) started a reimagined fall season in September with OBT MOVES/Exposed, a series of free, outdoor, socially distant pop-up performances and demonstrations presented by OBT dancers. The OBT reimagined 2020/21 season will be presented in three acts. Shows will be in-person and distanced, and also available digitally via live stream or on-demand. First up this fall, Wish List will share the parts and productions OBT dancers and directors have always wanted to explore (October 29 to November 15). Then, February 22 to March 13, 2021, OBT Raw will build on Wish List and show more complex pieces for duets, trios and ensembles. Both these shows will be held at the OBT Warehouse, which has been converted from prop and costume storage into a black-box theater, giving patrons access not only to the grit behind ballet, but also a peek at the production work involved to bring ballets to the main stage. OBT suggests that these two shows are best for ages 8 and up. Finally, OBT hopes the third act, Americans (Re)Imagined, will be held at the Newmark Theatre, May 3 to June 19. While this may not have been the season OBT originally hoped for, the personal aspects of these performances may foster an unexpected intimacy between artists and audience that fans will appreciate. Obt.org.
How You Can Help:
Oregon Symphony adapted to its canceled spring shows by filling its Instagram feed with one-minute music videos from musicians. Fans have loved getting glimpses into the homes of symphony artists. And the sublime music can be a needed reset. The Oregon Symphony’s Symphony Storytime online series for kids got such excellent feedback from viewers that 16 more episodes (some in English, some in Spanish) are in the works. The Symphony realized it had tapped into a meaningful digital experience for kids that is both entertaining and educational. It is getting input from members on using the storytimes to help parents start conversations on big topics such as racism and anxiety. This winter, the Oregon Symphony plans to celebrate the 250th birthday of Beethoven. Specific programs and activities for families will be part of it, so check back at orsymphony.org for more details on the birthday bash.
How You Can Help:
The period is probably the most challenging time in the Oregon Symphony’s 125-year history. The organization is grateful for anything fans can donate to keep the music alive for future seasons.