PICTURED: In December, Studio Channel Islands invited high school students to take photographs at home and in their neighborhoods. The images were projected on the outside wall of the gallery for a drive-by exhibition. Photo by Peter Tyas

by Emily Dodi

If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain must go to Mohammed. Or, in this case, if we can’t go to the theater or gallery, they must come to us. Or, at least, meet us halfway. This is happening all around Ventura County in response to COVID-19 restrictions. While Zoom and other online offerings abound, there are some things that go beyond the basic two-dimensional experience.

Studio Channel Islands invited high school students to take photographs at home and in their neighborhoods. Each student teamed up with a professional photographer at the outset of the project and then refined their work at home. The result was a drive-thru exhibition that was projected on the outside wall of the gallery for drivers-by to see. Peter Tyas, executive director of Studio Channel Islands, points out that it wasn’t the gallery’s first drive-thru show and it probably won’t be its last. While the pandemic has been challenging, Tyas adds that it has also been an incredibly prolific time for artists. “There is a lot of making happening. Lots of ideas and proposals.”   

The need to create has never been stronger, and it doesn’t stop at the canvas. Case in point, Bill Walthall, founder of FireMuse Shakespeare, put out a call that went like this: “Got a Shakespeare-itch that you can’t scratch in this pandemic? Dying to feel the power and glory of the Bard’s verse coursing through you (and out your mouth), but don’t have the time for a production?” With that, Walthall launched the FireMuse Shakespeare Sonnet Project 2021, “a year-long all-digital celebration of the 154 14-liners (in most cases, at least) that helped cement Shakespeare’s poetic fame and name.” The result is a series of videos starring the sonnets, recited by people of all ages, that are available to view on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fmshakes1/ and Instagram at www.instagram.com/fmshakes1/?hl=en.

Actors are not the only ones with live theater withdrawal. One avid theatergoer came up with an ingenious remedy. Cheryl Ruiz invited Cynthia Killion and Taylor Kasch, two of her favorite actors, to create a safe, socially distanced outdoor performance. “It was for my 50th birthday, which I usually celebrate at a play or opera with my two theater friends and since there isn’t anything right now, I reached out to Cynthia. It was the perfect day, and their performance was incredible. The friend whose backyard we held it in cried afterwards as she said she didn’t think she’d ever feel happy like that again. She lost her husband in May,” Ruiz explains. “I think it’s easy to think of theater as something frivolous but it’s so much more. It’s so important.” 

“It was so nice knowing that some audience members are missing live performances just as much as we are,” Killion adds. “It was very surreal memorizing lines again and having the opportunity to perform in front of a living, breathing audience. I think when this is over, we will all have a new appreciation for the human need to gather.”