Impact Series

To outlive the pandemic, dance, theater and opera go digital to supply followers a lifeline to the humanities

Pacific Northwest Ballet retiring principal dancer Benjamin Griffiths in William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.” PNB is planning an online celebration of his career. (Angela Sterling Photo)

While the coronavirus pandemic has focused us on fulfilling basic needs and actions — procuring toilet paper and flour, finding or making masks, and paying rent and bills despite economic uncertainty and hardships — for many, survival requires something more. We need something to soothe our psyches during this crisis, and the arts can serve as a healing balm.

“We’re essential,” said Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) in Seattle. While ballet is not essential in the way that doctors, pharmacists and grocers are, he said, PNB is offering a lifeline to the arts through videos of its dancers and musicians rehearsing and performing.

In normal times, the opportunity to sit in a packed theater as professional dancers pour their heart, soul and talent into a performance supported by world-class musicians can be transcendent. Videos are the best substitute currently available.

Fans watching the clips tell Boal, “I just started crying because this is something I’m missing so much in life, this apex of humanity.”

“It’s hard to find that with the barriers of screens,” Boal said. Yet he’s pleased that his nonprofit is exploring innovative ways to reach the public, even if it doesn’t generate revenue. “Technology is proving itself as the extension of humanity and realization of the heart.”

Arts organizations are, perhaps not surprisingly, finding creative ways to connect with people through a variety of digital means. Many already had sophisticated online presences and are expanding their content or offering material for free.

Seattle’s On the Boards performing arts theater launched a decade ago to reach a broader audience and provide digital content to educators, a “Netflix for contemporary performance,” said artistic director Rachel Cook.

The organization has created 55 performance films featuring artists from around the world, including theater, dance, performance art and experimental works. The films are high quality and recorded using multiple cameras at performances before life audiences. Due to coronavirus, the nonprofit has waived the normal fees and is available for free for the month of April.

Like Boal, Cook recognizes the critical role that the arts play in our lives, perhaps now more than ever.

“We’re looking to leaders for guidance, and politicians are not providing that reassurance and guidance,” Cook said. “And artists have the ability to do that.”

Arts nonprofits large and small face serious financial hardships that threaten their survival due to with the cancellations of performances and exhibits that stretch into the future. They’re missing out on hosting fundraising events that cover much of their costs. Many organizations are undergoing widespread layoffs and struggling to pay rent.

Individual groups welcome donations and ArtsFund has an emergency campaign to raise money for the more than 100 Puget Sound-area arts organizations it supports, and Art Trust is offering grants to artists statewide. The King County agency 4Culture has a roundup of other fundraising efforts.

On the Boards is looking for a corporate partner that could enable it to continue offering its content for free past this month.

“Art provides this space for imagination, for abstraction,” Cook said. “We’re all in a space of panic, fear and anxiety” and art provides relief and an opportunity to “imagine how we might rebuild something we want to live in.”

The Northwest has numerous organizations providing digital access to the arts. Here’s a roundup of some online resources:


Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB): View performances, interviews and other content through PNB Social, and sign-up to take classes at home, taught by PNB teachers and dancers. In lieu of upcoming performances of “Giselle,” PNB is hoping to share a past dress rehearsal of the ballet (it needs permission from four unions to do so).

Spectrum Dance Theater: Streaming past productions on Fridays.

Verlaine & McCann: The duo that delivers “The Burlesque Nutcracker” during the holidays offers an Alice in Wonderland-inspired, live-streamed “Wonderland In Quarantine.”

Velocity Dance: Offering online classes in modern, hip hop and dance cardio fitness.

Dance Church: A non-religious, high-energy dance workout set to pop music created by Seattle artist Kate Wallich available via live-streamed classes.

Bahia in Motion: Instruction in Afro-Brazilian dance is available live streamed from a Seattle studio twice a week.

Dance Fremont: Seattle dance studio offering life-streamed classes with the unique feature of live piano accompaniment.


On the Boards: In addition to content, the nonprofit is experimenting with group viewings. Check the site for updates.

Seattle Rep: Inside Seattle Rep offers video content including show-inspired recipes on “Quarantine Kitchen,” behind-the-scenes interviews with theater staff and a new podcast. The Rep is also offering online classes for teens.

5th Avenue Theatre: Offering workshops for high school students and clips on YouTube.

Meany Center: The University of Washington-based theater has clips on YouTube.

Seattle Shakespeare Co.: The nonprofit has a calendar of live-streamed performances internationally, including it’s own “Romeo and Juliet” on April 25th at 7:30 p.m.

Visual arts

Bellevue Arts Museum: The nonprofit’s Museum from Home offers curated, virtual museum tours and crafts.

Seattle Art Museum (SAM): Stay at Home with SAM provides videos, photos and essays about art, artists and art preservation, and crafts. SAM’s outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park remains open.

MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture): The MoPOP blog is regularly updated with videos, interviews and stories, plus archival content including items like the art of the beatbox with local luminary Doug E. Fresh.

Frye: Frye from Home has wirtual screenings, YouTube videos and crafts.

Wing Luke Museum: Digital Wing Luke offers digital collections and more.


Seattle Opera: Opera at Home has wide-ranging content including performances, interviews, playlists, podcasts and video chats.

KEXP: Independent radio station KEXP has a calendar of virtual, live-streamed concerts.

Seattle Symphony: Free broadcasts streamed through the Symphony’s social media channels on YouTube and Facebook.

Early Music Seattle: Offering a Spotify playlist.

String Club: This small Seattle company offers online instruction and collaboration for fans of stringed instruments.


A little less high-brow than other SIFF offerings, yet a film for these times: “Best of CatVideoFest.” (From SIFF website)

SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival): Streaming a variety of new movies.

Northwest Film Forum: Offering multiple online film screenings.

Literature and Lectures

CD Forum for Arts & Ideas: Online lecture series called “Physical Distancing Intimate Conversations.”

Hugo House: Online writing classes and authors’ interviews.

Jack Straw Cultural Center: Podcasts and youth poetry shared by Facebook.

Seattle Arts & Lectures: Podcasts of past interviews and virtual book bingo.

Town Hall: Live streaming of upcoming shows, including jazz performances in collaboration with Earshot Jazz.


Teen Tix: Events calendar for teen friendly digital events.

Youth in Focus: Online tool to help youth “amplify their voices, foster community, and creatively express what matters to them.”

More: Coronavirus Outbreak

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