RIT hosts 'NY PopsUp' event to revive the arts

Emily Putnam
Updated: February 21, 2021 06:14 PM
Created: February 21, 2021 05:44 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — On Sunday, Rochester Institute of Technology's MAGIC Spell Studios hosted the first state-sanctioned live performance in our area since the start of the pandemic. 

Local economies across Western New York have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the absence of live performances during the pandemic. Sunday's event was a big deal for the arts community, as many artists have felt forgotten and left behind throughout the reopening process.

The event was part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's "NY Pops Up" initiative, which he announced last month in his State of the State address. More than 300 performances will take place across New York State between now and September as part of this initiative, and some of them will feature celebrities like Chris Rock, Renee Fleming, Hugh Jackman, and Amy Schumer. 

Sunday's performances featured Rochester's own Tony Award-winning Garth Fagan Dance company, which hasn't performed for a live audience in nearly a year. 

"We haven't actually been at work for just about under a year so this is just thoroughly exciting to try and, you know, get back on stage," said Norwood Pennewell, rehearsal director and artistic assistant to Garth Fagan.

Neither the venue nor the performers had much time to prepare for the event. 

"We jumped on it very, very quickly" said David Long, director of MAGIC Spell Studios. "It was not known to us until the month of February, and here we are on the 20th and 21st pulling it off."

Dancers performed on MAGIC Spell Studios' sound stage, which provided more flexibility than a typical theater space for moving chairs and equipment around to maintain social distancing. 

"MAGIC Spell sound stage is a film production stage, and it affords us the opportunity to kind of configure the audience and the stage in a unique way," said Long. "Number one it's kind of a cool mashup to bring a dance performance onto a film production sound stage, and number two just the footprint of the soundstage gives us the maximum flexibility with COVID protocols."

Sunday's performances were for members of the RIT community only, many of whom are frontline workers who have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the community safe. Everyone had to complete a health screening ahead of time, wear a mask at all times, and seats were socially distanced. 

While there is still a long way to go to get back to where the live performance industry was before the pandemic, artists believe this is a step in the right direction, and the opportunity to perform for a live audience during the pandemic sends a powerful message about the importance of the arts in our community.

"We're actually hearing from the politicians," said Pennewell, "the people that really can affect change, or at least initiate change, that we're still viable."

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