The year of living virtually


By Ianna Banfield
Park Slope Collegiate

Daniel Polonia
Baldwin High School

Across New York, performance groups and community organizations have adapted to COVID-19 restrictions by turning to streaming to continue to showcase their events.

Venues such as libraries, concert halls and theaters traded ticket booths for Zoom links.

The Brooklyn Public Library stitched community together via a virtual crafting circle on July 22, 2020.

The Brooklyn Public Library offered virtual programs during the pandemic, now people can come back to check out books in-person. (Photo by Alex Chen)

As positive as those events are, library spokeswoman Fritzi Bodenheimer says she worries about those who don’t have access to the technology that virtual programs require. 

“The downside is, despite the great job that our librarians did, we know that in Brooklyn and in New York and anywhere that there are people who are on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Bodenheimer said.

While many people do have Wi-Fi and other means to connect to streams, some are not as lucky. 

“We put towers on many of our library branches on the roof that extend the Wi-Fi signal so that people living nearby are able to access it,” Bodenheimer said.

For cultural organizations such as the Mark Morris Dance Group, an international touring dance organization based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, COVID restrictions led to creative ways of keeping the music going.

The group produced “Listening Parties with Mark Morris and Colin Fowler,” a series of live-streamed conversations about music, similar to a podcast. 

“From a technical standpoint, there was a lot of research that needed to be done and preparation to understand how to best present live-streamed events and what platform made the most sense,” said Tara Treffilettia, a spokeswoman for the group. “We also needed to figure out what the registration process would look like.”

The Guggenheim Museum’s Works and Process program commissioned performances from a number of dance groups, including the Ladies of Hip-Hop. They performed in the New York Public Library’s Library for the Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan in April 2021. These performances were streamed on the Lincoln Center’s website.

It wasn’t always easy, organizers said.

“We initially began programs on Google Meet … which was complicated because in the beginning, you can see everybody,” said Jennifer Schantz, the executive director of the New York Public Library’s Library for the Performing Arts. “So, for instance, we would have a program, and then there would be a gentleman eating his sandwich during the program. Or someone would forget to mute, and we wouldn’t be able to control the mute. … By July, we used Zoom webinars.” 

The Brooklyn Tabernacle, a church in downtown Brooklyn, has a youth ministry for people between the ages of 13 and 18.

C.J. Cody, a co-director of the ministry, saw how the pandemic changed his job. 

“We had to build an online presence via YouTube, Instagram, Zoom,” he said.

This transition was a learning curve for Berenise Jean, the youth administrative assistant for the ministry and the creator of the Zoom meetings and live-streams.

“I had to learn how to edit videos,” Jean said. “I had to research which platform would be the best for us.”

A branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. (Photo by Ianna Banfield)

One of these videos was the ministry’s “I Must Remain” special. It included pre-recorded trivia, performances by the church’s choir, bible readings, and more. It was live-streamed on March 12, 2021, on YouTube.

Baldwin High School on Long Island has about 1,200 students and used a hybrid format in order to have school both in-person and virtually.

Jordyn Schneider, a rising college freshman, participated in Baldwin’s Virtual Cabaret, which was a pre-recorded compilation of Disney song covers and was streamed on March 5.

“I think a lot of theater is the exchange of the energy between the actors and the audience.” Schneider said. “Without the energy for the actors to exchange, the people watching were not as enthusiastic.”

One of the performances of the school’s Concert Choir was pre-recorded and posted online in December, and the other was live-streamed on May 25. Kristine Costello, the teacher for the school’s Concert Choir, saw how their performances were affected.

“Think about it: When you were learning from home, boop, you get a text message, you get a Snapchat, whatever, your attention goes elsewhere,” she said. “You could’ve missed the moment that sucked you in and transformed a few moments of your day. …  And all these things that make us forget we experience something as one thing.” 

Alex Chen contributed to this report.