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Photo: Jack Devant
The Perm Opera theater in Russia is getting around quarantine regulations by performing to an audience of one. At least, that’s the plan.

I have been reading a lot of articles about organizations that, although hurting badly from the pandemic, are managing to limp along. You are probably reading other such articles. Just as humans with underlying conditions are said to succumb more quickly to coronavirus, so do institutions with underlying conditions. Some weak nonprofits and businesses have already folded.

Others may come out on the other side of this with new ideas for a stronger future.

It helps to be adaptable.

Andrew Roth writes at the Guardian, “Picture the scene: The curtain rises as the orchestra strikes up the opening bars of Puccini’s La Bohème or Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

And in the 850-person auditorium of a storied Russian theatre sits just one lucky viewer, a lottery winner whose prize is the personal performance of a lifetime.

“Barred from hosting audiences due to the coronavirus outbreak, a theatre in Perm, a city near Russia’s Ural mountains, plans to host a unique experiment – private viewings of the theatre’s ballets and operas for the price of just a normal ticket.

“The project, called One on One, is the creation of Marat Gatsalov, the principle stage director of the Perm Opera and Ballet theatre. The idea, he said, predated the coronavirus pandemic. …

“When the local government in Perm, an industrial city that also has a reputation as a cultural powerhouse, declared that events with large audiences should be cancelled, he realised the time for the experiment had arrived.

“ ‘We’d been told that we can’t let viewers into the theatre hall,’ Gatsalov said. ‘But that doesn’t mean we can’t let just one viewer in.’ …

“Russia’s coronavirus outbreak has accelerated in the last week and the government has passed tougher measures to prevent its spread. One on One had been scheduled to open with Puccini at the end of March, but the theatre has said that it will begin holding shows only when the rules for the country’s theatres are clearer. …

“The lottery will work like this: 850 people will register for each show, whether it’s an opera, ballet or concert, and a winner will be selected and invited to buy a ticket at the theatre for the normal price.

“Nobody else will be charged, although the theatre could use the funds. Financially, Gatsalov said, the coronavirus crisis has been ‘catastrophic.’

“Asked about how he planned to keep performers safe, Gatsalov said he was trying to follow safety rules ‘as much as possible’ and said the theatre regularly checked people’s temperatures and disinfected the premises. But it was clear that plans were in flux. ‘Of course the theatre can’t be operating as normal at the moment,’ he said.”

More at the Guardian, here. I sure hope it works and will look for a follow-up story down the road. Meanwhile, you can watch New York’s Met opera nightly as an audience of one in your home. It’s a free service while the pandemic lasts. Check it out.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Perm, Russia, where a lucky lottery ticket will get you an opera performance for you alone.
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Photo: Nederlandse Spoorwegen
A special book given out as gift to readers during National Book Week is accepted instead of a ticket on the train.

The Dutch seem to be ahead of the curve on many things. I’ve posted about their friendly communities for people with dementia, about their environmental innovation, about their biking culture. This story is on their support for reading books.

Jon Stone writes at the Independent, “Dutch book lovers got free rail travel across their country’s entire network [in March] as part of the Netherlands’ annual book week celebrations.

“Every year since 1932 the Netherlands has encouraged reading with Boekenweek – a celebration of literature marked with literary festivals and book signings across the country.

“Traditionally, a well-known Dutch author writes a special novel – the ‘book week gift’ or Boekenweekgeschenk – which is given out for free to people who buy books during the festivities or sign up to a library.

“But the special book – this year the novel Jas Van Belofte by celebrated author Jan Siebelink, can also be presented instead of a rail ticket on every train in the country on the Sunday of book week.

“Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Dutch state railway company, has long been a sponsor of the annual festivities – and even organises book readings signings by top authors on its trains.

” ‘It is good to see all those happily surprised faces of travellers,’ author Jan Siebelink said after boarding a train for the city of Utrecht to meet passengers and read his book. …

“This year the book week gift was given out by bookshops to anyone who spent €12.50 on Dutch-language books.” More here.

And check out this cool article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, in which he describes a wide array of unusual ways to pay fares — ideas from all around the world.

Because of a problem with rail passes, he writes, England’s Virgin Trains let people pay with an avocado for a while. And “Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, came up with a novel way of clearing its streets of plastic waste last autumn: It has been encouraging passengers to trade in trash for bus tickets.”

Among other creative approaches, Russia promoted the Winter Olympics by offering passes for doing a certain number of squats, Berlin partnered with Adidas to offer sneakers with a pass in the tongue, and Japan started experimenting with cryptocurrency.

Can you think of other ideas cities should try? Maybe on Giving Tuesday, transit systems could allow free travel for proof you gave to a charity.

 

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Photo: English National Opera
Young people have fun participating in the English National Opera’s Opera Squad.

Anything that engages young people in the arts — and helps them to start on a lifetime devotion — has my vote. As arts organizations struggle to increase their base of enthusiasts and bring in a new demographic, they might look at the idea of “free.”

Mark Brown writes at the Guardian that as of last December the English National Opera will “offer under-18s free Saturday night tickets in what it has called a ‘seismic’ initiative to attract the next generation of fans. …

“Stuart Murphy, the former channel controller of the youth channel BBC Three who joined ENO as CEO in March, said the initiative stemmed from the company’s core values.

“ ‘We were founded on the belief that opera is for everyone,’ he said. ‘Removing cost as a barrier to entry for under-18s is a seismic leap forward for ENO and for opera as a whole. … We want young audiences to feel alternately passionate, excited and transfixed. We can’t wait to welcome them to the London Coliseum.’

“All the free tickets will be for what might be called the cheap seats in the balcony. But ENO contends the balcony ‘is widely regarded as having acoustically the best seats in the house.’ There will also be no peering round columns as, uniquely, all seats at the Coliseum have unrestricted views of the stage.

“Anyone who is under 16 will need to be accompanied by an adult. But any adult who purchases a full-price ticket in the balcony … will be able to take up to four children for free. Teachers bringing a school group can be accompanied by 10 children for free. Young people aged 16-17 can book one ticket each.

“The tickets will be available for all of the 11 Saturday performances in the spring 2019 season, which includes productions of La Bohème, Akhnaten, The Merry Widow, The Magic Flute, and the new opera Jack the Ripper: the Women of Whitechapel. …

“The ENO initiative will be welcomed by those who argue that the best way to get young people hooked is for them to experience the art form itself.

“Graham Vick, the artistic director of Birmingham Opera Company, has described conventional outreach and education work as a ‘barrier’ to reaching new audiences. ‘You do not need to be educated to be touched, to be moved and excited by opera,’ he said. ‘You only need to experience it directly at first hand with nothing getting in the way.’ ”

Not sure I agree with that last comment. I was 14 at my first opera, La Bohème, and it meant nothing to me. At the very least, I think it would help if kids heard the music in the background at home or school for some days before attending a performance. I could be wrong. No doubt they will all get into Jack the Ripper without help!

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Paula Keller
Actor Luverne Seifert demonstrates techniques of Ten Thousand Things, which brings free, low-budget, high-quality theater to people who are not rich.

A new theater company trains actors to do high-quality, free performances for new, nontraditional audiences. Somehow I knew it would be based in Minneapolis, a hotbed of theatrical innovation in the late 1990s when I lived there.

Theresa J. Beckhusen reported the story at American Theatre.

” ‘If I was going to spend my life making theatre, I didn’t want to make art for rich people.’ This is how Michelle Hensley, artistic director of Ten Thousand Things (TTT), a theatre company in Minneapolis, kicked off a recent conference. …

“The gathering drew around 100 theatre makers from across the country to compare notes about working with the grass-roots theatrical model championed by Hensley’s company. Its motto could be fairly summed up as … art for not-rich people.

“For 30 years Ten Thousand Things has been touring productions to prisons, transitional housing, rehab centers, immigrant centers, shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and more — and all for free. …

“TTT productions are performed in the round, in whatever space their tour sites have available. … Actors mingle with audience members, interacting before, during, and after performances.

“The productions are spare: no lavish costumes, no fancy sets, no lights. Hensley puts a premium on story and language. …

“Many conference attendees shared stories … One incarcerated woman in particular was moved by a wedding scene in The Tempest because she’d missed all the weddings in her family. [Another told] how audience members drove from Tijuana to San Diego just to see a bilingual Twelfth Night. …

“Playwright Kira Obolensky led a session on choosing material that would work in the intimate settings pioneered by TTT. She began by posing a question … : What story would you tell if everyone was in the audience? … ‘I don’t think a lot of American playwrights and directors ask themselves this question.’ …

“Brad Delzer reported that he recently began employing TTT’s model with True North Theatre, his new theatre company in Carlisle, Pa. Sensing an opportunity to bring theatre to places that don’t typically see it, and to connect with the strong military community in the Carlisle area, Dezler toured Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad to a soup kitchen, a men’s shelter, and the town’s Army Heritage Center, before holding two public performances. …

“He had been generally apprehensive about the whole thing, but had particularly fretted about how a six-minute list of wars from the last few centuries would go over. ‘It played really well, he said, noting the power that came from the moment. ‘It surprised us.’ ”

There’s more at American Theatre, here, where you can see how different TTT groups manage to fund free performances.

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Pretty much every job I’ve had since the early 1990s came with a free mug. One day I decided to line up my job mugs and take a picture.

The one on the far left is from a Yankee Swap at either Harte-Hanks or Charlesbridge. I can’t remember which. The second is a stand-in for Harvard Business Review. I broke my HBR mug and didn’t love the job enough to replace the free one with a paid one.

The next two are from jobs I had in Minnesota. My husband was running a company in Maple Grove, so I moved to Minneapolis for a few years.

The two mugs after Minnesota represent 15 years of my life and two small pensions. My final paid job (the cute mug with attached spoon) lasted eight months before I decided all I wanted to do now was volunteer in ESL classes for immigrants.

If you have photos of your own job mugs, I’d love to share them.

I’m laughing at myself here.

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Two Kansas philanthropists with ties to Chicago have chosen to benefit that city and its youth for 25 years to come with a gift extending eligibility for free admission.

Matt Masterson writes at Chicago Tonight, “Chicago teens won’t have to pay to visit the Art Institute again for quite a long time. [City] residents under the age of 18 will no longer be required to pay the $14 admission fee at the Loop museum thanks to a donation from a pair of Kansas donors.

“The gift comes courtesy of Glenn and Claire Swogger of the Redbud Foundation, a Topeka-based nonprofit … The Swoggers’ gift specifically allows Chicago teens between the ages of 14-18 to enter the museum at no cost. Guests under the age of 14 already receive free admission.

“Glenn Swogger began attending the University of Chicago on scholarship at age 16, according to Hicks, and though he has since moved away, he has maintained a strong connection to the city and wanted to provide a gift that would reflect the impact his teachers and education have had on him.

“Though the actual amount of the donation has not been released, Hicks said museum staff reviewed attendance projections with the Swoggers and believe the gift will cover every Chicago teen for the next 25 years. …

“The Art Institute already consults with a five-member teen council of volunteers who represent different schools and neighborhoods across the Chicago area. They meet weekly to advise and brainstorm with various departments within the museum about how to make the museum more engaging and meaningful for young people.”

More here.

Photo: Art Institute of Chicago
Whitney Young Magnet High School senior Rosario Barrera, right, and Kenwood Academy High School Junior Walela Greenlee, both members of the museum’s teen council, in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing.

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This story has received coverage in a bunch of different venues, but I caught it on WNYC’s the Takeaway, with John Hockenberry, on my drive home from Providence today. Just had to share it.*

“General Electric’s CEO announced that all new hires, whether or not they’re working in tech, will now be required to know how to code. New York public schools are also introducing mandatory computer science classes into their curricula.

“These initiatives seem to indicate that coding is the key to getting hired and the panacea to all employment problems, and as the needs of the U.S. job market shifts, people are putting that theory to the test.

“Coal miners in particular have suffered the brunt of the changing job market. With 40 percent fewer jobs than in 2012, coal miners are seeking out second jobs to support their families, and many have turned to coding.

Amanda Laucher, co-founder of Mined Minds, a free computer coding training program in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, is helping struggling coal miners in her area. Click on the ‘Listen’ button.”

I loved that Laucher told Hockenberry she and co-founder Jonathan Graham were “having a blast.” They didn’t feel like the free service they are self-funding was even a chore. She added that the support of the community made it all possible.

PBS had a bit more background, here:

“When tech consultant Amanda Laucher realized her brother in Greene County, Pennsylvania, the third largest coal-producing county in the country, was at risk of losing his job as a coal miner, she and her husband, Jonathan Graham, decided to help. They began driving about 500 miles from Chicago every weekend to teach him and others in the community how to code.

“Laucher and Graham said they saw an opportunity to wean Greene County off an economy that is heavily dependent on energy. They recently relocated to Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, and co-founded Mined Minds, a nonprofit that offers free coding classes to laid-off coal miners and other unemployed workers.” Oh, my. Bless their hearts!

*Update May 12, 2019: Uh-oh. Read about an unfortunate outcome, described at the New York Times, here. I still think it was a worthy effort.

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In India, a civic-minded restaurant put a working fridge out front so patrons could join the eatery in offering leftovers to the hungry instead of throwing good food away.

Elyse Wanshel writes at the Huffington Post, “Pappadavada, a popular restaurant in Kochi, is urging customers and the community to put their leftover food in a refrigerator located outside of the eatery for the hungry to take. …

“The fridge is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week and stays unlocked. … Pauline told the Huffington Post that despite a huge response from the community and ample donations, the fridge needs to be restocked regularly. Pauline herself adds around 75 to 80 portions of food from Pappadavada a day in the fridge. …

“The idea to put a fridge on the street came to Pauline late one night when she saw a lady searching in a trashcan for food. As she watched the woman, she had a terrible thought:

“ ‘That the woman had been sleeping and was woken up by her hunger, so she had to go in search of food instead of sleeping.’

“She was especially saddened because that particular night, her restaurant had made a ton of food that they could’ve easily given the woman, instead of her searching for it.

“The experience made her feel like she contributed to waste, and avoiding waste is what Pauline is focused on.

“ ‘Money is yours but resources belong to society,” she told HuffPost. “That’s the message I want to send out. If you’re wasting your money, it’s your money, but you’re wasting the society’s resources. Don’t waste the resource, don’t waste the food.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Thesny Alikhan
Minu Pauline, right, the restaurateur behind the free food fridge, with a supporter, actor/director Thesny Alikhan

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After a delightful morning with my granddaughter and my older grandson, I went to Providence to hang out with my younger grandson and Suzanne and a good friend.

I caught up with them at the park, where the farmers market was winding down and a free summer concert was revving up: the annual Summit Music Festival. (Check it out here.)

The four of us liked a blues group called the Selwyn Birchwood Band (pictured) and another band called Smith and Weeden. The ice cream eater below had reservations about a third performance. Everyone’s a critic.

We spent a chunk of time going “higher, higher” on the swing in the playground and watching a multi-ethnic group of small boys kick a soccer ball. (How brave it is to go up to boys you don’t know and ask to play!) We skipped the face painting, which was gorgeous but, to a 2-year-old, kind of pointless. We watched kids and grownups painting a mural wall.

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I need to ponder a bit before deciding how I feel about publishing books that don’t earn anything for the author and that cost the “buyer” only an unenforceable promise to make a donation to a charity.

I was discussing this with Asakiyume by e-mail this morning. She self-published the delightful Pen Pal and has often said she is more interested in getting people to read the book than in making a lot of money off it. But neither us feels that artists should be expected routinely to give away the fruits of their labors. (If they really want to, there are worthy groups like Artists for a Cause that can make it happen.)

Kathleen Burge describes the new publishing concept in today’s Globe. “When the Concord Free Press was just a radical idea with a one-title book list, founder Stona Fitch nervously pitched Wesley Brown, hoping to persuade the acclaimed author to let him publish Brown’s latest novel.

“ ‘You want me to give you this novel I’ve been writing for years,’ he recalls Brown saying. ‘You’re not going to pay me. And you’re going to give it away for free and hope that readers donate money to something else.’

“ ‘I said, “Wes, yeah, that’s pretty much it.” There’s this long pause and I’m waiting for something bad to happen. And he said, “I’m in.” ’ …

“Readers agree to give away money, in any amount: to a charity, a stranger on the street, or someone who needs it. Donations since 2008 total $409,250 — and that is just those reported back to the publisher. Readers are also asked to pass along the book once they are finished, so donations continue to multiply. …

Gregory Maguire , who wrote Wicked, the wildly popular novel that became a Broadway musical, saw a chance to free himself from his reputation as only a fantasy writer — the way he is promoted by his publisher, HarperCollins — and try a new kind of novel.

“After the book, a tragic farce titled The Next Queen of Heaven, debuted with the Concord press, his publisher paid him a very welcome advance to issue a second — much larger — edition of the work.”

More here.

I can see how this rather Utopian approach could work for an established writer who wants to try a new genre. But the big hurdle for new writers is publicity. They can’t generate their own very well. How do they get into the right hands once they are published?

Photo: Lane Turner/Globe Staff
The Concord Free Press gives away books for free to readers who will donate to a charity or person in need.

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The Concord Players brought a one-hour version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” to the lawn of the library yesterday.

The Prospero was perhaps too young, considering that “The Tempest” is an aging Shakespeare’s valedictory, and there was some awkward overacting, but gee whiz, they had to shout to be heard outdoors. So, good for them to work so hard to give the public free theater in summer!

Several sea nymphs doubled as ushers and were lovely to behold.

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