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Photo: Igor Kasyanyuk via WIFR.
Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, co-creators of a Tiktok musical based on the television show Bridgerton.

Are you on TikTok? I haven’t gone deep there, but I’ve gotten a kick out of the few things I’ve seen, mostly clips recommended by some other website. Today I want to highlight something fun: a musical created just for this kooky platform.

At the Conversation, Sarah Bay-Cheng, Dean of the School of Arts at Canada’s York University, asks, “Is musical theatre an event, a sound — or something else?

“The 2022 Grammy Award for best musical theatre album went to a show that originated as a TikTok smash hitThe Unofficial Bridgerton Musical by duo Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear.

Bear, a 20-year old pianist, composer and former child prodigy produced the album. She and Barlow both composed music and wrote lyrics. Barlow, a singer who previously established herself with a massive TikTok fan base, sings almost all the parts of all the songs.

“What does all this mean for the future of musical theatre?

Inspired by hit Netflix series Bridgertonproduced by Shonda Rhimes, Bridgerton: The Unofficial Musical won the Grammy over productions created by established figures such as composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber. ….

“Musical theatre albums typically circulate as the official cast recordings of staged musical theatre performances including full orchestrations. In this case, Barlow and Bear began their collaboration over Zoom [during Covid] and together performed all of the roles.

“Their collaboration didn’t end there. Over the course of creating The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical, Barlow and Bear played to other fans of the show via TikTok: They rehearsed their songs, interacted with fellow performers and contributed to the thriving creative fan culture for which the video platform has become known. …

The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical was not the first musical adaptation to emerge on TikTok. In 2020, during pandemic shutdowns, an online fan base of the Disney film Ratatouille began creating, sharing and developing Ratatouille tribute songs — like an ode to Remy the rat by one user given a (digital) orchestral treatment by another user — until this swelled into a Ratatouille musical TikTok community.

“Eventually, leaders of the theatre and digital media production company Fake FriendsMichael Breslin and Patrick Foley, adapted the collective project for an online performance. …

“With Disney’s permissionRatatouille the TikTok Musical streamed for two performances in January 2021, raising over US$2 million for the Actors Fund. …

“Although the [Bridgerton] win was historic, musical theatre has always circulated through networks of media, popular culture and fandom.

“Long before social media allowed users to create and share music online, audiences performed songs from theatrical productions at home. … For example, as musical theatre scholar Stacy Wolf points out, the Rodgers and Hammerstein song ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair’ was used for a hair product commercial.

“If musical theatre of the past was an event, today it is more akin to a community. … The musical Hamilton amplified access to tickets and online media buzz by creating a hashtag contest, #Ham4Ham. Fans using the hashtag had the chance to win front-row seats.

“But today but just getting a seat is not enough. New audiences want to be part of the process, and scholars are paying attention.

“Throughout the creation of Unofficial Bridgerton, locked-down Broadway performers joined in the collective development. They shared ideas and performed songs with Barlow and Bear.

“In an interview with NPR, Barlow noted that theatre is a gate-kept art form and at $200 a ticket not many people can go. In comparison, online adaptations create more access and more interest. …

“I first heard about Barlow and Bear’s album from a former student of mine who works in the writers’ room for Bridgerton. It’s not a coincidence that Rhimes’s show was source material to inspire new musical theatre creation.

“Rhimes’s television projects consistently challenge dominant cultural narratives, ensuring that what people see on the screen reflects the realities of contemporary life. … She calls it ‘making TV look like the world looks.’ In response to her work, creative fan cultures emerge with media platforms facilitating dynamic, diverse and ongoing collaborations.

“This attention to the diversity of representation and Grammy recognition for new modes of production are changing musical theatre for the better. Rather than a singular location or sound, theatre of all kinds today is a dynamic experience created across multiple networks, communities and identities. We should recognize and celebrate these talents.”

More at the Conversation, here.

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Photo: Anupan Nath/AP.
Actors in Awahan mobile theater group perform in a village near Guwahati, India, after a two-year hiatus because of Covid.

So many activities got suspended during Covid, and many workers wondered if they would still have a job when the world reopened. That was true for everyone from servers in struggling US restaurants to actors in rural India.

In April, Al-Jazeera posted about a traveling theater in India that, to everyone’s relief, is reemerging after two years.

“Traveling theater groups in India’s northeastern state of Assam are reviving the local art and culture scene after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in their performances for nearly two years.

“Seven roving theater companies are back on stage playing before crowds in villages, towns and cities across the state. These mobile theaters are among the most popular forms of local entertainment.

“ ‘The public response has been very good. They love live performances. We have no competition from television and the digital boom,’ said Prastuti Parashar, a top Assamese actress who owns the Awahan Theatre group.

“Before the coronavirus hit the region, about 50 theater groups, each involving 120 to 150 people, performed throughout the state. They would start in September, coinciding with major Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja and Diwali, and continue until April. …

“Drama is an integral part of Indian culture and the mobile theater groups do not restrict themselves to mythological and social themes. They have in the past covered classic Greek tragedies, Shakespearean tales and historical subjects like the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Diana and the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“The groups travel with directors, actors, dancers, singers, technicians, drivers and cooks, in addition to all the stage infrastructure to perform three shows in one place before moving on to the next makeshift venue.”

For a bit more background, let’s turn to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which states that “Indian theater is often considered the oldest in Asia, having developed its dance and drama by the 8th century BCE [Before Common Era]. According to Hindu holy books, the gods fought the demons before the world was created, and the god Brahmā asked the gods to reenact the battle among themselves for their own entertainment. Once again the demons were defeated, this time by being beaten with a flagstaff by one of the gods. To protect theater from demons in the future, a pavilion was built, and in many places in India today a flagstaff next to the stage marks the location of performances.

“According to myth, Brahmā ordered that dance and drama be combined; certainly the words for ‘dance’ and ‘drama’ are the same in all Indian dialects. Early in Indian drama, however, dance began to dominate the theater. By the beginning of the 20th century there were few performances of plays, though there were myriad dance recitals. It was not until political independence in 1947 that India started to redevelop the dramatic theater. …

“Classical Indian drama had as its elements poetry, music, and dance, with the sound of the words assuming more importance than the action or the narrative; therefore, staging was basically the enactment of poetry.

“The reason that the productions, in which scenes apparently follow an arbitrary order, seem formless to Westerners is that playwrights use much simile and metaphor. Because of the importance of the poetic line, a significant character is the storyteller or narrator, who is still found in most Asian drama. In Sanskrit drama the narrator was the sūtra-dhāra, ‘the string holder,’ who set the scene and interpreted the actors’ moods. Another function was performed by the narrator in regions in which the aristocratic vocabulary and syntax used by the main characters, the gods and the nobles, was not understood by the majority of the audience. The narrator operated first through the use of pantomime and later through comedy.

“A new Indian theater that began about 1800 was a direct result of British colonization. With the addition of dance interludes and other Indian aesthetic features, modern India has developed a national drama.

“Two examples of ‘new’ theater staging are the Prithvi Theatre and the Indian National Theatre. The Prithvi Theatre, a Hindi touring company founded in 1943, utilizes dance sequences, incidental music, frequent set changes, and extravagant movement and color. The Indian National Theatre, founded in Bombay in the 1950s, performs for audiences throughout India, in factories and on farms. Its themes usually involve a national problem, such as the lack of food, and the troupe’s style is a mixture of pantomime and simple dialogue. It uses a truck to haul properties, costumes, and actors; there is no scenery.”

Great traveling-theater pictures at Al-Jazeera, here. More detailed information at Britannica, here. No firewalls.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff.
Ida Joe tries out her new sink with running water, which the nonprofit DigDeep installed in her home in Smith Lake, New Mexico. About 30% of those living on the Navajo [Diné] reservation do not have indoor plumbing or running water.

In Navajo Country, water is precious, and running water is sometimes nonexistent. Golly. I shouldn’t complain. Renovations at our house have left us without hot water since May 18, but at least we have cold water and friends with showers. Some Navajos [Diné, as they call themselves] trek periodically to the nearest town and rent a hotel room to take a shower!

Henry Gass, a writer at the Christian Science Monitor, reported the story from Smith Lake, New Mexico. “Ida Joe flinches a little as the tap sputters, then spurts water into the sink. Cautiously, tentatively, she pushes her hand under the faucet. She feels the water soak her skin and run through her fingers – first cold, then hot. After a few seconds, she starts to laugh.

“Outside the one-room house she shares with her two daughters and granddaughter, a cold breeze rolls across the dusty, arid plains of the Navajo Nation. A few hundred yards away, wild horses drink from a small, briny lake.

“Ms. Joe has lived on the Navajo Nation for all of her nearly 50 years. This late February day is her first with running water in her home. Until now, her family would drive to Thoreau, 10 minutes away, or Gallup, 45 minutes away, to buy gallon jugs of water.

They would drive to town to do laundry, and rent a hotel room for the day to use the shower. …

“Water is sacred on the Navajo Nation, and scarce. About 30% of the roughly 173,000 population lack running water, according to a report from the U.S. Water Alliance and DigDeep, an international nonprofit with Navajo employees who have been installing running water systems in homes on the reservation since 2014. The size of the reservation, the large distances between homes, scarce natural water sources, jurisdictional issues, and contamination from industries like uranium mines have all contributed to restricting access to running water here for generations.

“But according to those working to improve water access on the reservation, the COVID-19 pandemic has heralded a bittersweet turning point. … The pandemic drew widespread attention to the fact that many Navajo didn’t have enough water to thoroughly wash their hands, which was core advice of health experts at the time. … New coalitions have formed, funding has increased, and innovations from organizations like DigDeep have helped expand water access here more than ever before.

“ ‘This has been a silver lining for us,’ says Crystal Tulley-Cordova, principal hydrologist for the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources. …

“A pickup truck, a trailer towing a backhoe, and a gleaming white water truck nicknamed ‘Big Ernie’ make up the DigDeep convoy. …

“The region has been in various forms of drought for over 20 years, and is currently experiencing severe and extreme drought. … There are also problems with water quality. Arsenic and uranium, both left over from a century of mining on the reservation. …

“Meanwhile, piping water onto the reservation is challenging because of how spread out the population is. Some areas are a checkerboard of public and private land, presenting right-of-way issues. On top of that, funding has typically been limited, according to Capt. David Harvey, deputy director of the Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction at the federal government’s Indian Health Service. …

“Through the CARES Act – a pandemic relief funding package passed by Congress in March 2020 – the Navajo Nation received over $5 million specifically for increasing water access on the reservation. …

“The [DigDeep] crew were here 18 months ago to install one of their foremost pandemic-era innovations: a ‘suitcase’ – a 4-cubic-foot box filled with a water pump, heater, filter, expansion tank, and battery installed outside homes to provide tap water from a 1,200-gallon underground tank. …

“During the pandemic, 100 of these suitcase systems have been installed by DigDeep crews on Navajo lands, at no cost to residents.

‘People [were being told], “Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.” But how can they do that if they don’t have running water?’ says Cindy Howe, the project manager for DigDeep’s New Mexico office. …

“Ms. Joe and her family wait in their car while Kenneth Chavez and Brian Johnson assemble the sink and Erving Spencer maneuvers the backhoe. …

“Ms. Joe likes living here, she says. She feels safe, and she wants to raise her kids and grandkids here.

“ ‘It’s one of the most important things that I would probably want to do before I go,’ she says, ‘teaching them the foundation of our culture.’ …

“As they finish their work at Ms. Joe’s house, ‘Big Ernie’ refills the 1,200-gallon tank that now supplies her indoor sink. …

“Lacking water ‘is just normal for a lot of people,’ says Ms. Howe of DigDeep. Her grandparents would melt snow for water. Her parents hauled water throughout her childhood as well – always on Sundays, so she could have a bath before school on Monday.

“ ‘It was really heartbreaking to see,’ she says. ‘Fifty-five years later, it’s still happening. We’re all helping each other [but] there’s still a lot of people that don’t have any water.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe.
Health care professionals at a Mass. General vaccination van parked near the La Colaborativa food pantry administered COVID-19 vaccines and tests for residents during a mini-festival for teens in Chelsea, Mass., on Oct. 06, 2021.

Today I’m thinking about all the people who keep on keepin’ on. Some may think they have no choice, but that doesn’t make them any less heroic to me. There is a kind of unconscious daily heroism of putting one foot in front of the other without any expectation of light at the end of the tunnel that I used to see among tired commuters on the subway. Endless Covid has a bad effect on my gumption, so I greatly admire truckers, grocery workers, nurses, doctors, hospital cleaners, housecleaners, farmers, teachers, and the many others who just keep going.

Today’s article from the Boston Globe shows, I hope, that such dedication pays off. Even if things get worse after they get better, it pays off again and again.

Felice J. Freyer, Bianca Vázquez Toness and Diana Bravo wrote last fall, “The crew had been out on the streets for more than an hour before they found a man who needed a shot.

“The five young people in torn jeans and mint- and cantaloupe-colored T-shirts had already accomplished a lot on this bright late-September day. Stopping stroller-pushing moms on the sidewalk and knocking on the doors of triple-deckers, they told people about the food pantry, the English classes, the sports and music lessons for children, the upcoming block party, where to get help with a leaky oil tank — even how to register to vote.

“But until they came across Gato, sitting at the open door of a shed under the staircase to his home, the promotores de salud — community health workers — did not have occasion to talk about the vaccine against COVID-19, an illness that had stormed this small impoverished city with notorious ferocity.

“ ‘Have you been vaccinated, Gato?’ asked Natalia Restrepo, the 29-year-old engagement coordinator for La Colaborativa, the community service group that hired and trained the promotores.

“ ‘No,’ he said. Restrepo knows Gato; he’s friends with her husband. But she did not know this troubling fact about him.

“He was a member of the unvaccinated minority. According to state data, 74 percent of Chelsea residents are fully vaccinated, above the state average of 67 percent. That happened even though Chelsea’s population is dominated by groups traditionally hard to reach — immigrants, poor people, Latinos. …

“And new COVID-19 cases in Chelsea have plummeted to below the statewide average. Chelsea has made itself into a vaccination standout, the result of a person-to-person campaign by multiple community groups.

“ ‘The Chelsea experience is one we really need to learn from,’ said Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. ‘It’s one where we can see the value of efforts that are locally designed, locally led, and developed by the people most familiar with the community and most trusted by the community.’ …

“The pandemic had raged like a wind-whipped fire in Chelsea, a 2.5-square-mile city across the Mystic River from Boston, bringing fevers and hacking coughs to apartments and houses packed with grandparents, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — a mysterious sickness that rode home with folks who took the bus to jobs serving food or cleaning hotels or hospitals.

“In April 2020, according to a new report from the environmental group GreenRoots, the COVID-19 infection rate in Chelsea was one of the highest in the nation, 57 per 10,000 residents, higher than the worst days in New York City, six times the statewide infection rate. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that by April 2020 one-third of the city’s residents had acquired antibodies to the virus, indicating they’d been infected. …

“But sickness wasn’t the only source of pain: By June 2020, with the economy flattened by the pandemic, one in five Chelsea residents was out of work. …

“Founded in 1988 to serve a new influx of Latino immigrants, La Colaborativa [offered employment and more]. It set up a food pantry, delivering food and medicine to those in quarantine. ‘We became the survival center,’ said Dinanyili Paulino, the chief operating officer.

Gladys Vega, the CEO, recalls encountering an 11-year-old in the food line. The girl had been left to care for her 6-month-old sibling when their mother was suddenly hospitalized with COVID-19.

“ ‘We adopted that girl for three weeks,’ Vega said, making sure she had diapers and food, and neighbors checking in on her.

“So when it came time to vaccinate, Paulino said, community members wondering whether the vaccine was safe turned to La Colaborativa —’the people that have been with them from the beginning.’ …

“When the COVID-19 vaccines were approved in late 2020, the organization trained mothers to form a cadre of promotores, who teamed up with doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital going door to door to talk about the importance of vaccination. …

“Despite such preparations, despite the severity of COVID-19 in Chelsea, the vaccine itself was slow to arrive. … Advocates were outraged, and undeterred. …

“The first big vaccination clinic in Chelsea opened on Feb. 4. The doses didn’t come from the state. Instead, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center received them through a federal program and agreed to set up a clinic at La Colaborativa.

“Offering the vaccine at their headquarters, Vega said, ‘sent a strong message that, if we are welcoming the vaccination, that means that you as an individual should get vaccinated.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Folger Theatre.
Actor/director Holly Twyford got interested in a new kind of theater project during the pandemic.

How many of us began pandemic activities that we liked enough to keep? In my case, being obliged to do my volunteering via Zoom showed me there is often a greater feeling of individual connection when I can see English students’ faces up close on screen instead of in a large room. What new way of doing things did you decide to keep?

In one example, an actress was invited to teach elderly shut-ins during the down time and found she liked it. Peter Marks reported the story for the Washington Post.

“In the courtyard of an independent living residence in Rockville, Md., Holly Twyford brought her acting class to order. With the script of Spoon River Anthology in front of them, one of her students, 93-year-old Shelly Weisman, recited the words of Lucinda Matlock, a character who speaks of a marriage that lasted seven decades.

“ ‘I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick. I made the garden, and for holiday rambled over the fields where sang the larks,’ Weisman declaimed, as Twyford — long one of Washington’s premier actors — listened.

“ ‘I love that piece,’ Twyford said at last.

“ ‘I do, too,’ Weisman replied. ‘I love her.’

“And so it went for an hour with Twyford and several residents of Ring House, in the Charles E. Smith Life Communities, off Rockville Pike. Organized by Theater J, an arm of the Edlavitch D.C. Jewish Community Center, the class wasn’t just an exercise to nourish the artistic spirits of theater-loving seniors. It was an invigorating lifeline, too, for Twyford. Sidelined by the pandemic from pursuing her customary evenings-and-matinees vocation, the actress was hired by Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr to teach enrichment courses and earn some needed cash.

“ ‘The pandemic has been a nightmare for us who depend on large, live audiences,’ said Twyford, a ubiquitous presence on Washington stages, in everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim. When covid-19 collapsed the theater industry, Twyford lost two acting and two directing jobs.

‘I can only say Adam subsidized many out-of-work actors and directors by saying, “Hey, you should teach a class.” … That’s what he did for me.’ …

“Theater J, with only a handful of full-time staffers, took on a sizable mission, hiring dozens of theater folk to teach more than 50 classes, most of them virtual. …

“Angela Hughes, a die-hard theatergoer who lives in Northern Virginia, has enrolled in 16 of Theater J’s virtual classes. ‘It was a way to have theater in my life,’ she said in a phone interview. …

“The combination of pandemic isolation, audience fascination and artist deprivation created highly favorable circumstances for Theater J’s initiative: From July 1, 2020, to June 30, more than 700 people from 23 states and Israel, Canada and Australia took the company’s Zoom courses, according to Immerwahr. During that period, he has paid out more than $40,000 in fees to his improvised faculty.

“That might not boil down to a king’s ransom — national philanthropic organizations, such as the Actors Fund, have doled out millions. But every extra paycheck helps when one is scrambling.

“ ‘At times, it’s been serious,’ Immerwahr said of the need in the D.C.-area theater community. ‘We’ve had people who couldn’t qualify for unemployment, because they worked in seven different states.’

“Naomi Jacobson, another familiar talent to Washington theatergoers, has taught six courses for Theater J, including ‘Inside the Actor’s Process’ and ‘Inside the Rehearsal Room: “Collected Stories,” ‘the latter with actor Emily Whitworth and Immerwahr. ‘I had nine months of work lined up, and it all went away,’ she said, noting that she took her pension early to make sure she and her husband, actor John Lescault, could pay their mortgage.

“While Lescault carried on in the recording booth in their basement for his side business, narrating books for the Library of Congress, Jacobson built up a coaching practice for actors and public speakers in other professions. How she’ll balance the pedagogical pursuits with her acting life remains an open question: She is scheduled to return to the stage in September to portray Ruth Westheimer in Mark St. Germain’s one-person Becoming Dr. Ruth at Theater J. …

“It so happens that Twyford is directing Jacobson in the piece, a process they began before the shutdown. When that assignment abruptly ended, Twyford [says] ‘I did apply for a job at a hardware store, and I was turned down,’ she said. ‘I know tools and I build things, and it was really harsh to get that rejection.’

“But Immerwahr came calling, which was why on this warm August day, Twyford had driven to Rockville to teach the weekly sessions of her monologue-preparation class to students in their 80s and 90s, one at Ring House and another at its sister building, Revitz House. …

“The students had been asked to choose speeches from the script, a compendium of the more than century-old poems that make up Edgar Lee Masters’s cycle of ordinary townsfolk, narrating their personal tales from the afterlife.

“Weisman wasn’t sure at first about the material. ‘I said, “Why on earth did you pick this? It’s people speaking from the grave! We’re close to the grave!” ‘ The teacher thereby learned quickly that these pupils were not shy about speaking up. …

“Over several weeks of talking and rereading, though, she came to understand the value of immersing herself in the persona and hardships of her character. ‘As I was reading it over and over, it became much more real to me,’ Weisman said. ‘Every life has disappointment and tragedies. Lucinda didn’t dwell on it.’ …

“[Says Twyford] ‘Shelly asked me, “What have you learned about 90-year-olds?” I gotta say, talk about some role models! … These folks, they just haven’t stopped learning.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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The year there was no Boston Marathon.

October 11 is a little different this year. Some people will still be celebrating Columbus Day. (Time, here, explains why some Italians feel positive about the explorer.) Others will recognize Monday as Indigenous People’s Day, honoring the tribes who were here before the arrival of Europeans and the devastation they brought. Rhode Island, for example, plans to use its the PRONK parade to celebrate Native Americans.

And here’s something that hasn’t happened in October before: the Boston Marathon. Erik is running again, so my husband and I will be there, cheering him on.

The Boston Marathon is usually run at the April holiday New Englanders call Patriots Day, the day that in 1775 the “embattled farmers” stood at the North Bridge in Concord “and fired the shot heard ’round the world.”

In 2020, Covid cancelled the Marathon. And 2021 was touch and go, too, until organizers at the Boston Athletic Association decided the pandemic might be under control by October.

Well, it is and isn’t. So there are unusual Marathon protocols in place.

Says the BAA, “Entrants in the 125th Boston Marathon, scheduled for Monday, October 11, will need to either provide proof of vaccination or produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to participate in the fall race. It is strongly recommended that all entrants, staff, and volunteers are vaccinated. Masks will not be required while running the 26.2-mile course, but will be enforced on participant transportation and in other areas in accordance with local guidelines.

“We understand that COVID-19 related-travel restrictions may prevent many international participants from toeing the line in Hopkinton. In recognition of this unique and extenuating circumstance, any Boston Marathon participant who resides outside of the United States can move their entry to the virtual race and be refunded for the difference.

“Prior to bib number pick-up, Boston Marathon participants will be required to either produce proof of a complete vaccination series of a World Health Organization-certified vaccine or produce a negative COVID-19 test, which will be administered on site in a Boston Marathon medical tent.”

According to the Boston Globe, “there will be 14 former champions in the field, with a combined 32 first-place Boston finishes, including two-time men’s winner Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, as well as countryman Asefa Mengstu, who has the fastest personal best in the field and the 23rd-fastest marathon ever at 2:04:06.

“The women’s field features nine sub-2:22:00 marathoners, including Ethiopia’s Yebrgual Melese, whose 2:19:36 personal best ranks fastest in the field. Melese will have some tough competition from fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba, the 2015 world champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist.”

If an aspiring runner hasn’t run the required number of previous races at the required times, she or he can still participate if sponsored by a charity and willing to raise money for it. The Globe says, “There are 41 charity organizations, with 2,090 runners, participating. Over the past 32 years, more than $400 million has been raised for charity.”

And here’s an interesting note: “For the only time in its history, the Boston Marathon will take place on Oct. 11 — which is recognized as Indigenous Peoples Day in cities and towns on the route.

“Patti Catalano Dillon, a three-time Boston runner-up and a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe, will be interviewed at Fan Fest Oct. 8 at 1 p.m. about setting the American marathon record at Boston 40 years ago. She also will serve as an official starter.

“A ceremony will be held Oct. 8 to commemorate the 85th anniversary of Ellison Brown’s first of two marathon titles. A banner will be presented to the grandchildren of Brown, who was a member of the Narragansett tribe.”

More at the Globe, here.

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Clown Shortage

Photo: Pacemaker.
Noeleen and Henrik Fries Neumann on their wedding day in 2017. Clowns are serious about clowning.

One of my brothers performed as a clown for years at his church. In his other life, he was a professor doing research into how the immune system works. The great thing about clowns is how they help you look at things differently. Now that I think about it, that’s what scientific research does, too.

I thought of that brother when I read today’s story about how Covid and Brexit have caused a serious shortage of clowns in Northern Ireland.

In case you haven’t already heard more than enough about Brexit (the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union), you can read up on the Northern Ireland complication at Wikipedia, here.

In a nutshell, Ireland itself is still enjoying all the benefits of being in the EU, but Northern Ireland, since it is part of the UK, has to have special treatment so it can still do a lot of what it used to do — and not reignite friction with its neighbor. Add Covid to that and what you have is a royal mess!

To see the problem in microcosm consider the shortage of clowns.

The BBC reports, “There’s a lot more to being a clown than just putting on a big red nose and a big baggy pair of pants. That’s according to David Duffy, co-owner of Duffy’s Circus, who is appealing for people from Northern Ireland to become clowns.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of the performers, as many returned to their home countries when the first lockdown came into force in early 2020, according to Mr Duffy.

“But what makes a good clown?

” ‘Someone who’s willing to make themselves vulnerable,’ says Noeleen Fries Neumann, known professionally as Silly Tilly.

” Not everybody likes to be laughed at but for someone who is a clown, your worst nightmare would be to not be laughed at,’ Mrs Fries Neumann told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

‘You have to be able to poke fun at yourself, it’s not about poking fun at other people.’

“During lockdown, Mrs Fries Neumann and her husband Henrik, who is also a clown known as Jarl, set up a big top circus tent in their garden, allowing them to continue to rehearse and perform.

“The couple first met at an international clown festival, before having a clown themed wedding in 2017.

“[Lockdown] was hard for Mr Duffy and his circus has been closed for more than 500 days. …

” ‘Because all the circuses in Europe and in England have been up and operational for the past six months, that huge pool of EU artists are already back at work and up until last week we haven’t been able to even get visas issued for non-EU artists and entertainers,’ Mr Duffy said.

” ‘That’s why we’re trying to reach out for any of our folks at home who feel that they can give it a go.’

“In order to be a clown, Mr Duffy says you have to be ‘really, really adaptable’ and be able to think on your feet. …

” ‘A clown actually can be the loneliest place because you’re in there on your own and you have to be able to read your audience, in a short couple of minutes you have to be able to get a rapport going with them and interact and feed off them.’

“Aspiring clowns will be performing a short piece during online auditions being held by Mr Duffy as he tries to recruit a new team of performers.” More at the BBC, here.

You know, some of the best clowns in the business worked for Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey circus and attended the company’s clown school in Florida. Now that the circus is out of business, maybe there’s a clown or two who would consider relocating to Northern Ireland. What do you think?

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Photo: Reuters via the Christian Science Monitor.
The giant violin above was built by Venetian artisans and carries musicians performing a live concert.

How have people around the world found a path to joy and laughter during the pandemic? In Venice, a giant, floating violin is providing fun on the Grand Canal.

As Elisabetta Povoledo reported this month at the New York Times, “In its 1,600-odd years, any number of phantasmagorical vessels have floated down Venice’s Grand Canal, often during regattas or elaborate ceremonies dedicated to the sea. On Saturday morning, a decidedly unusual head-turner took a spin: a gigantic violin, carrying a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons.’

“The craft, called ‘Noah’s Violin,’ set sail accompanied by an escort of gondolas, and in no time a small flotilla of motorboats, water taxis and traditional flat-bottomed Venetian sandoli joined the violin as it glided from city hall, near the Rialto Bridge, to the ancient Customs House across from Piazza San Marco, about an hour’s ride.

“The vessel is a faithful, large-scale replica of a real violin, made from about a dozen different kinds of wood, with nuts and bolts inside, as well as space for a motor. In addition to the artistry involved, it took a lot of tinkering and nautical expertise to make it seaworthy, its makers say.

‘It was a novelty for us, too,’ said Michele Pitteri, a member of the Consorzio Venezia Sviluppo, which financed the boat and built it along with Livio De Marchi, a Venetian artist, who conceived the idea during last year’s lockdown.

“De Marchi named the work ‘Noah’s Violin,’ because like the ark, it was meant to bring a message of hope after a storm, in this case a message that promoted ‘art, culture and music,’ he said.

“It’s no coincidence that the journey down the Grand Canal was plotted to end beside the church of La Salute, Italian for health, in the Dorsoduro district, which was built as a votive offering to the Virgin Mary for deliverance from a plague that decimated the city in 1630. …

“The boat was steered by a helmsman dressed in a black cape and wearing a black tricorn hat like those popular in the 18th century. ‘I wanted him to channel the spirit of Vivaldi,’ De Marchi said.

“Leone Zannovello, the president of the consortium, said that the project had revived enthusiasm at the shipyard on the island of Giudecca, where it was made, after the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic. Companies and individuals who weren’t part of the group even offered to help out, he said. ‘It was something that united us even more,’ he said. ‘We worked with our hearts.’

“On Saturday, Zannovello and others followed the violin down the Grand Canal on sundry boats, palpably proud.

“ ‘Bravo Livio!’ a voice cried out in praise of De Marchi.

“ ‘Bravi tutti!’ (‘Well done, everyone!’), De Marchi responded.

“It was mostly smooth sailing, though De Marchi mumbled anxiously whenever the prow (the neck of the violin) veered too sharply to one side or other. But even though the musicians played standing up (barefoot for a better grip), they scarcely missed a note. At one point the score for the viola flew off the music stand and into the water, but it was quickly recovered.

“ ‘Let’s just say that between the wind and the waves, it was challenging,’ said Caterina Camozzi, the viola player, after she was back on dry ground. Tiziana Gasparoni, the cellist, chimed in to say, ‘as a Venetian and a musician, it was the most moving experience of my life.’

“As is often the case in Italy, the real hitches along with way were bureaucratic.

“ ‘We were told we needed a vehicle registration plate, but officials didn’t know how to classify it,’ said Mario Bullo, a carpenter in the consortium. At first, they were issued the same plates given to rafts. ‘But the traffic police objected, saying that’s not a raft, it’s a violin,’ he said with a shrug. In the end, city officials worked it out. …

“ ‘The artisans in the city never stopped during the lockdown. Even if they couldn’t work with their hands, they still used their brains,’ said Aldo Reato, a local lawmaker who arranged for the half-dozen gondolas to accompany the violin. ‘There is no one better than a gondolier to represent the city’s traditions,’ he said.

“It’s not the first time that De Marchi, an artist known for sculpting household objects or clothing in wood, has created large-scale floating works. He began with an origami-style paper hat made of wood, in 1985, and since then he’s put several large-scale wooden objects out to sea, including a woman’s shoe, a pumpkin coach with horses, and a variety of cars, including a 1937 Jaguar, a Volkswagen Beetle and a Ferrari convertible.

“People gathered over the Ponte dell’Accademia and along the paved banks of the Grand Canal to watch the floating concert that included works by Bach and Schubert. …

“A brief ceremony attended by members of the consortium and their families and friends, followed. De Marchi made a speech, and commemorated the relatives of people who had worked on the violin who had died before seeing it finished. The Rev. Florio Tessari blessed the violin and said he hoped it would ‘travel the world as a message of hope.’ There has been interest in the violin from businesses in Italy and a museum in China, De Marchi said.

“The musical entertainment continued there along with toasts and a singalong of sorts.

“Zannovello, the consortium president, said he hoped the violin would serve to showcase Venetian crafts after a slow and difficult period. ‘I am convinced there will be a return,’ he said.”

Do check out the photos at the Times, here, and enjoy the grins of people just having fun.

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff.
Restaurant owner Donnell Singleton delivered fresh vegetables and a chicken and rice dinner to JoAnn Witt in Dorchester in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

As I try to catch up on articles I saved from before the lockdown and in its early days, I thought you’d be interested to know that the Boston restaurant in this inspiring June 2020 piece was still operating on its community-oriented principles.

Suzanne Kreiter at the Boston Globe wrote the story and took the pictures.

“When the pandemic shut down Boston’s schools in March [2020], Food for the Soul restaurant owner Donnell Singleton made a decision. Working with activist Monica Cannon-Grant of Violence in Boston, Singleton closed his Grove Hall restaurant to customers and turned it into a provider of free meals for the community.

“He thought they would feed a couple hundred people on the first day. Some 850 showed up. The next day, 1,050. On the third day, 1,200 people came for chicken, collard greens, sandwiches, rice, and other fixings.

“Unable to continue safely serving so many people out of the storefront restaurant he opened four years ago on Warren Street, Singleton and Cannon-Grant transitioned the effort to a free community food delivery service. …

“To support the effort, Singleton at first relied on donations. Then Cannon-Grant swung into action. ‘Monica is the queen of grass-roots,’ Singleton said.

“He got a Resiliency Fund grant from the city, as well as money from the Boston Foundation, Nike, and other funders. Singleton couldn’t pay his staff, but they stayed on as volunteers. Through her own fund-raising prowess, Cannon-Grant provided stipends to the restaurant’s staff so they could keep food on their own families’ tables.

Other volunteers from the community, having no job to go to during the pandemic, crammed into his small restaurant to cook, package food, and drive meals to families, many of whom were in need even before COVID-19. …

“Every day, potential customers peer in the windows or ask through the door for Singleton’s soul food, a mouth-watering assortment of chicken (fried, baked, barbecued, smothered, and jerk), fried haddock, beef ribs, brisket, rice and beans, and more. But they have to wait.

“Singleton said he’s not worried about lost business. He said he felt it would be ‘almost disgraceful’ not to have been there for his community.

‘“Sometimes you have to ask yourself what’s important,’ he said.

“Singleton, a 47-year-old father of three, was born and raised in Roxbury. He attended Latin Academy and was the first member of his family to graduate from high school and college, Clark Atlanta University. He has worked as a teacher, often focusing on at-risk youths, and he owns a children’s book publishing company, Origin Nile Publishing.” More at the Boston Globe, here.

From the restaurant’s website: “Food For The Soul is the only location in Boston where you can walk in and find a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a cop, a fireman, and a school teacher. All of these individuals would be of different ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socio-economical levels, and educational levels. It is here at Food For The Soul [that] every single one of those people are the same, ‘human beings deserving of and receiving great service, great products, and amazing Food For The Soul.”

Follow the restaurant’s unusual array of community activities on Facebook, here.

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Illustration: Shivani Javeri.
Many artists in India donated their work to fundraisers such as the Fearless Immunity art sale to help others during the height of the pandemic.

You can trust artists to come through when there’s a need for empathy. They are often sensitive enough — perhaps wounded enough — to feel someone else’s pain and want to do something about it.

For example, as Rohini Kejriwal reports at Hyperallergic, India’s creative community became a beacon of hope during Covid-19, using their talents to raise money for vulnerable populations.

“In April and May, amidst a devastating second wave of COVID-19, India faced an overwhelming shortage of hospital beds and vaccines, choked crematoriums, and a rising death count. …

“From their homes, artists took to social media and used visuals, words, and even cake to raise funds for frontline workers and organizations helping affected communities get basic supplies like oximeters, thermometers, basic medicines, and masks. From every part of the country, illustrators, photographers, poets, and bakers came together to do their bit. 

“Hundreds of illustrators across the country have sold their prints, calendars, and other merchandise in exchange for donations to individuals and organizations most affected by coronavirus. … Keeping transparency in mind, the artists and their supporters shared donation receipts publicly, and Instagram was suddenly flooded with posts by good Samaritans doing whatever they could. 

“Several artists also took on commissions, like Shivani Javeri and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, who made digital portraits for COVID-19 relief, and Divya, who did pet portraits on commission. Ria Mohta of Artisan’s Arbor created Feel Good postcards, through which people could buy postcards and write a customized message for loved ones. Creative Dignity, a volunteer-run movement, has been working to help traditional artisans and craftspeople from India who face the double threat of a health crisis and livelihood uncertainty. 

“Several print sales have been hosted by the photography community as well, like Art for India, Ode to India, and Prints for Hope by Eight Thirty; Chennai Photo Biennale’s PhotoSolidarity, as well as the Print for Srishti sale, with 45 participating photographers, initiated by photojournalist Smita Sharma.

“A series of art sales, in which multiple artists pooled and sold their work to raise funds as a collective, also arose. Author-illustrator Devangana Dāsh brought together 26 talented women artists to sell digital artworks; Kulture Shop ran two Art Fights Covid campaigns with 50 artists selling their art for oxygen relief; the Fearless Collective created an art sale Fearless Immunity; and LOCOPOPO and a group of artists and illustrators sold their original works and art prints.

A Friendly Fundraiser was started by a group of friends who decided to donate their time in exchange for donations, offering a variety of services and experiences from home coffee brewing, writing better college essays, personalized digital portraits, and even guidance on raising a puppy in lockdown. More recently, community fundraisers with various workshops and panels have grown in popularity, like student-run initiative Moonflower COVID Relief and Sensory Expansion by Unlocked

“India’s poetry and music communities have also had a part to play. In May, a group of writers hosted an evening of poetry, In the Dark Times, There Will Be Singing. Poet Nakuul Mehta is currently running #PoemsForHumanity, where he writes and performs an original poem for those who donate. 

“Even the independent music community has been doing their bit. Producer Arjun Vagale mobilized his friends in the Indian electronic music community, and together, they created a charity compilation album titled SOS. Producers Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Javeri collaborated with the coffee estate Kerehaklu to create Kerelief, natural soundscapes intended to bring calm. Sanaya, along with 11 other producers, also helped create CRSP (Covid Relief Sample Pack),  a bespoke sample pack of sounds produced from across the globe.

“Offering workshops as a way to share practical knowledge also became a way to incentivize donations. Shub (also known as the Hungry Palette) hosted a visual journaling workshop, and natural color maker Manya Cherabuddi started a fundraiser called Find Your Calm and donated all the proceeds from her classes on natural dyes and pigments. In June, NPI Collective hosted a 3-day workshop on children’s books as maps to help navigate the pandemic.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Mark Naison.
Fordham students who helped launch the Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project, stand with the project’s faculty adviser and an artist interviewed for the project outside the Crab Shanty Restaurant in the Bronx on May 20, 2021.

It’s hard to predict how anyone will respond to a stressful situation. A tightly controlled person may completely lose it; an anxious individual may find a reservoir of calm. As Harry Bruinius reports at the Christian Science Monitor, there were surprises like that in lockdown. What was clearly a stressful time had an unexpected positive side when kindness and resilience shone through the darkness.

“When Bethany Fernandez first began to document oral histories in the Bronx during the pandemic,” Bruinius writes, “her own life was ‘chaotic.’ … But the past year and a half has become, almost in a strange way, a time of profound personal growth and self-discovery, says Ms. Fernandez, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, a borough of New York City.

“The communities surrounding her were among the most afflicted in the country, and they were being documented relentlessly in the news. But when she decided to join a group of fellow students at Fordham University to launch the Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project, she found a reality not fully captured in the news, she says.

“ ‘In moments like these, a cynical person might think,”Oh, people are going to be selfish” – resources are scarce, survival of the fittest, or whatever,’ says Ms. Fernandez. ‘But no, it was the complete opposite.’ …

“Far from tales of woe, in fact, she and the five others in the project found their subjects again and again using a particular word to describe their experiences: resilience.

“Resilience in the face of hardship and trauma has always been a part of the human story. But during the past few decades, researchers have probed more deeply into what some scholars call a ‘psychological immune system’ that enables many people to respond to even the worst of situations and to recover from their resulting traumas. …

“ ‘If there is a silver lining that could come out of this, it would be that people are understanding that while the negatives scream at you, the positives – the resilience you can always find in people – these are only whispers,’ says Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University in Columbus.

“Human beings are wired to take particular note of the dangers that surround them and even focus on stories of trauma and fear. ‘The fight-or-flight response actually helps the species as a whole to survive, but it does nothing to make you happy,’ Dr. Yeager says. ‘It does nothing to help you build resilience.’

“The Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project tells this story.

“[According to] Alison Rini, a senior from New Jersey studying English and Italian … ‘It was such a surprising experience, finding these examples of people describing their resilience in the midst of such hard times – in the Bronx, in particular. …

“ ‘The pandemic has been a test of the global psychological immune system, which appears more robust than we would have guessed,’ wrote scholars Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn in the Atlantic. ‘In order to make sense of these patterns, we looked back to a classic psychology finding: People are more resilient than they themselves realize.’

“The authors emphasize that such broad trends should not erase ‘the immense pain, overwhelming loss, and financial hardships’ so many have faced over the past year and a half, especially disadvantaged populations. …

“ ‘But [the] pandemic holds its own lessons,’ they wrote. ‘Human beings are not passive victims of change but active stewards of our own well-being.’ …

“In what Ms. Fernandez calls one of her most memorable interviews, the owner of a Bronx restaurant described how she lost nearly 85% of her business and struggled to stay afloat after laying off most of her employees.

“Though the restaurant specializes in Puerto Rican and American cuisine, the owner, Maribel Gonzalez, kept the original name of the restaurant she bought 16 years ago, South of France. …

“Describing herself as a person of faith, Ms. Gonzalez said she had always offered her local community a free buffet every Wednesday. During the pandemic, as she and one or two employees struggled to keep the restaurant open, she kept that tradition alive, providing a free buffet at the height of the shutdown, even if only for an hour or two a week.

“ ‘You know, in all of this devastation, there are also a lot of blessings, because you find that you’re more resilient, that you’re stronger than you may have thought,’ Ms. Gonzalez told the project. She said her restaurant provided hundreds of meals for front-line health workers in partnership with others, supported by donations from a GoFundMe page.

“ ‘When you need to lug that 50 pound bag because you have to make whatever money you can, because maybe some of it can go to feed families that can’t afford it, you find the strength, you get the stamina, you find the chutzpah, if you will, to lift that bag, because there are so many depending on it – myself, my business, my future, the future of my employees, and those of my community.’ …

“The project had a profound effect on Ms. Fernandez as she wrestled with the challenges in her own life. ‘It was the one thing that stood out to me, the generosity that was shown all over, even throughout the time of the pandemic,’ she says. ‘Because when you see how resources are limited, when you’re being stretched out by work, by family obligations, by life and all of that, even with all the suffering going on, people were willing to give, people were willing to offer compassion and kindness.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Sierra Mar via Forbes.
A California restaurant has initiated impressive air-quality controls post-pandemic.

In the beginning, we were wiping everything down with bleach. I know I kept sharing a video from a doctor who’d worked with Ebola protocols. And for quite a while, I was treating all my groceries as if they could kill me.

Then we learned Covid was contracted mainly through the air, in invisible droplets from people breathing. So now that it’s possible once more to eat indoors in restaurants, the wary among us are asking how well restaurants are doing on ventilation.

At the Washington Post, Chris MooneyAaron Steckelberg and Jake Crump report on a few restaurants in California.

“When California’s Monterey County allowed restaurants to reopen in March, indoor dining returned to the cliff-perched Sierra Mar, known for its spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

“The Big Sur restaurant now featured some new pandemic touches: 18 tabletop mini-purifiers, 10 precisely distributed HEPA air purifiers, an upgraded heating and air conditioning system, and four sensors measuring the air quality in real time.

“The bar was closed, and at a table in the back sat someone new: an engineering professor whose specialty is air quality.

‘If this is going to work right, the ventilation keeps up with the head count,’ explained the expert, Mark Hernandez of the University of Colorado.

“Every 15 minutes, he would walk to the front desk to check how many people were now seated indoors. Then he would compare that number to the air’s current levels of carbon dioxide and particulate matter, to see how much exhaled breath lingered in the air and what expelled aerosols it could contain.

“Indoor dining remains risky, as the pandemic rages on, propelled by highly transmissible new coronavirus variants that threaten gains from widespread vaccination. The virus has been brutal for the restaurant industry. … Thousands of restaurants already have shut down permanently.

“Those struggling to hold on are considering a broad range of air ventilation and filtration techniques to keep customers and staff safe. Sierra Mar’s new air-quality experiment, partly funded by a regional foundation, cost about $30,000. That’s a hefty expenditure that might be out of reach for many restaurants running on thin profit margins.

“Mike Freed considers it a worthy investment. He’s the managing partner of the Post Ranch Inn, the exclusive resort that contains Sierra Mar and caters to an affluent eco-conscious traveler. Since the setup, if successful, could potentially be utilized in other restaurants and indoor spaces, the Washington Post asked several experts on indoor air to review the restaurant layout and strategy. They agreed it should work to make the dining experience considerably safer, while noting 100 percent safety is unattainable.

“These experiments in the restaurant industry may usher in a new data-driven relationship with indoor air, with people able to judge where they dine, vacation and work based on the quality and transparency of real-time readings. …

“[One] interior air circulation has been designed, says Hernandez, as a ‘seat belt in a place where you can’t control your peers … This is long overdue for public places.’

“At a time when its vista is clouded by recurrent wildfires, the Post Ranch Inn now displays the restaurant’s air quality updates on its website, so diners can time their escape around what they want to eat — and breathe.”

Check the Post, here, for a variety of new air-quality gizmos. For example: “An air purifier about the size of a water bottle [that] sits on each table. It can’t clean a lot of air quickly, but it can direct filtered air in a small area. And it runs on batteries.

“While the portable air purifier can be tilted toward a person’s face, Hernandez positioned it straight up, to reduce the risk of unmasked diners infecting others by breathing across the table. Instead, the device, made by Wynd and marketed as a personal air purifier, should push any shared or unfiltered air aloft”!

I keep thinking how the the pandemic has created new opportunities for obscure products like that and has also made rock stars out of certain kinds of engineering professors. Those are among the changes we’ll keep.

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Photo: Jörg Gläscher via DesignBoom.
A photographer built nine massive waves of deadwood in a forest near Hamburg, Germany.

A few years ago, I blogged about seeing Patrick Dougherty’s giant stick sculptures in Salem, Mass. He was getting a lot of attention at the time, and I studied up on him at the Smithsonian.

So I was reminded of Dougherty and the beautiful possibilities of sticks when John sent me a link to an article at This Is Colossal. The German photographer Jörg Gläscher, or @joerg_glaescher on Instagram, is the artist. (Colossal was tipped off to the story at This Isn’t Happiness.)

Grace Ebert reported, “As the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 swept through Germany in the fall of 2020, photographer and artist Jörg Gläscher decided to channel his own worry into a project that felt similarly vast and domineering. ‘I was working (with the idea of) the pure power of nature, the all-destroying force, which brings one of the richest countries in the world to a completely still stand,’ he tells Colossal. …

“Between November 2020 and March 2021, Gläscher spent his days in a secluded location near Hamburg, where he gathered deadwood and constructed nine massive crests — the largest of which spans four meters high and nine meters wide — that overwhelm the forest floor in undulating layers of branches and twigs. Each iteration, which he photographed and then promptly destroyed in order to reuse the materials, overwhelms the existing landscape with pools of the formerly thriving matter.

“Gläscher’s installations are part of a larger diaristic project he began at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, he published a few magazines to present the works that range from photography to sculpture in one place. … Find more of his multi-media projects on his site and Instagram.” Great photos here.

I like thinking about an artist pursuing a project suggesting tidal waves when, like him, we were all isolating ourselves from the tidal wave of Covid. There is something intriguing about his taking the waves apart and reconstructing them in different forms. Doesn’t coronavirus do that, too?

The Covid Art Museum on Instagram was and still is an artistic response to the pandemic. And considering that the pandemic wave hasn’t yet crested worldwide, I’m sure we’ll be seeing other, Covid-inspired artworks — not to mention, more art from sticks.

As Patrick Dougherty has said, “A stick is an imaginative object. … I think we have a kind of shadow life of our hunting and gathering past, especially in our childhood play. Because a stick — a piece of wood — is an object that has an incredible amount of vibration for us.”

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Photo: Yenvy Pham.
The owners of a Seattle Vietnamese restaurant, Phở Bắc, came up with the idea of a “Pho Now” cup and a “Pho Later” meal kit during the pandemic. “Survival mode is in our blood,” says Yenvy Pham.

I like to have a pipeline of possible articles in case I draw a blank some morning. But after Covid changed so much, it seemed like a good idea to check whether last year’s stories were still relevant. So I did a search on the restaurant in today’s article and found that the Covid innovations described here really worked.

In June 2020, Ashley Nguyen wrote at the Lily that Seattle’s Phở Bắc pivoted fast. “On March 13, Yenvy Pham went to New York City to celebrate the grand opening of her friend’s new Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Social. But as the coronavirus spread, Helen Nguyen — Saigon Social’s chef and owner — decided to cancel.

“By the time Pham flew home to Seattle on March 16, Washington Gov. Jay [Inslee] had ordered restaurants and bars to cease in-person dining. Pham and her siblings, who own and operate several restaurants called Phở Bắc in Seattle, saw sales plummet. … They instituted new safety precautions, made sure their employees had masks and gloves and started pivoting.

“Phở Bắc’s namesake dish is not something people typically order to-go, Pham said. To appeal to their customers, the Pham siblings introduced a ‘Pho Now’ cup that people could eat while sitting on a nearby curb, on their walk home, or in the car. They also began selling a ‘Pho Later’ meal kit, complete with broth, separately wrapped ingredients and assembly instructions. The restaurant started delivering orders using an old parking enforcement vehicle dubbed the ‘Pho Mobile.’

“As it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Pham and her siblings had to start making tough decisions. They closed two of their four Phở Bắc locations, and they were forced to reduce staff. … But if any of Phở Bắc’s current or former employees need something, the restaurant owners try to help: ‘My restaurant dynamic is very Vietnamese,’ Pham said. ‘It’s very practical. If [workers] need money, help [or] loans, we just kind of do what we can.’

“Operating multiple restaurants during a pandemic isn’t easy, but ‘survival mode is in our blood,’ Pham explained. Her parents, Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham, opened the first Phở Bắc location in 1982, a year after they came to the United States. Ultimately, Theresa and Augustine created a nourishing landmark in Seattle’s Little Saigon: The restaurant takes the shape of a red boat.

“Yenvy Pham and her Phở Bắc partners, siblings Khoa and Quynh-Vy, are dedicated to supporting fellow business owners in Little Saigon as economic fallout from the pandemic persists.

‘It’s my neighborhood, my Little Saigon,’ Pham said. ‘For me, business comes and goes, but the vibe of the neighborhood is so important, and so are the characters here. You’ve got to take care of your own people.’

“They recently donated $5,000 in proceeds from the Pho Mobile to the International Community Health Services clinic, where their sister works as a primary care doctor, and a small business relief fund for business owners in the Chinatown International District. …

“The siblings are also collaborating with other business owners. They added Hood Famous Bakeshop’s mini Filipino-flavored cheesecakes to their menu. Pham let Mangosteen — a traveling Texas-style barbecue joint from chef Thai Ha — take over one of their closed locations to sell brisket and wings with specialty sauces for pickup.

“The pandemic has given people more time to take stock of what’s important, Pham said in late April.

“ ‘I like the world stopping for a second to reassess our morality and get us out of this state of complacency,’ she said. ‘We’re doing powerful thinking about each other, ourselves, about the world. … We’re being more creative too and helping each other out,’ Pham added. …

“Despite the unknowns, Pham is confident that everything will work out. In her family, ‘we either fix it, we take care of it, we accept it, or we move onto something else.’ ”

More at the Lily, here.

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Photo: Camilla Forte.
Nikkie Bauer sticks social distancing reminders for spectators onto the window of Chicago’s Reckless Records, where she performs her window play.

This story reminds me of being a kid. I had a passion for theater and many impractical ambitions. For instance, I was certain that if I put together a production of “Snow White and Rose Red” from the Brothers Grimm, my friends and I would be welcomed to perform it before a movie at the Lafayette Theatre. The grownups laughed.

In today’s article, frustrated theater people who persevered made surprising things happen.

Camilla Forte writes at American Theatre, “When the pandemic shut down live theatre in March of 2020, the ensemble members behind Chicago’s Stop Motion Plant were in the middle of producing a performance commissioned by Theatre Evolve. With the stages shut down and their play canceled, they found themselves having to pivot.

“As the world adapted to a new reality, the group began meeting virtually to discuss the possibility of producing and performing live theatre in a way that would keep both the performers and the audience safe. Eventually, inspired by Macy’s dioramas [and] Chicago performers who put on ‘porch concerts’ throughout the summer, the concept for Window Plays was born.

“Presented as a ‘walking tour with theatrical displays,’ and running Feb. 19-21, the performance was not a traditional narrative play, but rather a collection of six short individual vignettes performed within the storefronts of six separate businesses in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.

In order to secure each storefront venue, members of Stop Motion Plant went door to door to explain the concept to shop owners.

“After receiving what they described as overwhelming support, the group landed on performing out of the Neo-Futurist Theater, Rattleback Records, Enjoy, Women and Children First, *Play, and Raygun.

“Each two- to five-minute play was acted out on a loop for an hour in its storefront window, allowing audience members to cycle between performances in a way that encouraged social distancing while making the experience accessible to a fairly large number of people. …

“Ensemble member Kevin Michael Wesson … drew on his puppetry background when determining the music and scale for his window play, Badvice. During his two-minute performance, Wesson asked audience members increasingly personal questions through the phone while pressing his hand against theirs through a pane of glass sanitized after every act. After the interaction concluded, he bestowed attendees with an envelope with three pieces of advice —two good and one bad — as a parting gift. …

“[Perry] Hunt placed a cardboard cutout of herself herself behind a screen and illuminated the cutout from behind. She then Facetimed her audience, convincing them the person they were speaking to on the phone was the person whose silhouette they could see in the window, only to reveal she was never actually there. …

“Although the performances were a revival of live theatre, the actors still had to grapple with the challenges of a virtual format throughout the six months it took them to put together the piece. …

“Despite the challenges this format presented, some ensemble members found the innovations born from working around these challenges refreshing. Hunt, for instance, found that working within a more limited format allowed her the freedom to think about theatre in more abstract ways, with this experience being something that will influence her work beyond the pandemic.

“ ‘I think it’s given me permission and space to think about more innovative ways that I can produce art,’ Hunt said. ‘This project has pushed me to be challenged and make challenging things.’ “

More at American Theatre, here.

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