Interim Artistic Director, Julia Bumke, On Passage’s Online Programming

Now that we’ve hit the six-month mark of this pandemic in the U.S., it feels like everyone is hitting a wall. For me, part of that wall comes from my professional life, both in my interim role at Passage and elsewhere: how do we create art that serves our audiences when everything is hard and relentless? People are hungrier for live performance than ever, and are seeking the connection, escape, and catharsis that it can provide. But fatigue over the new systems is real, too; I can’t bring myself to watch another live-streamed concert, even though I’m eager to experience musicians collaborating together.

In the midst of this shared traumatic experience, Passage’s themes for this season of connection and caregiving feel more apt than ever. We’re all seeking ways to feel less alone—and what better way to do it than stepping inside someone else’s shoes for a few hours?

For our Passage staff and the artists we work with, the pandemic has brought a fascinating puzzle—or that’s the optimistic spin I give it (some days), anyway. How do we make our work feel fresh and artistically rigorous, even as everyone moves their work online? For us, it’s meant long conversations with our directors, actors, writers, and designers, re-envisioning their work for this unprecedented time. It’s exhausting, but there are glimmers of exhilaration when we cast a production just right, or when a writer has a breakthrough in a workshop on Zoom. Earlier this month, we did a simple “table read” (really a Brady-Bunch-style Zoom call) of Passage’s new musical Group!, read aloud by the writers, our assistant director, and me. It felt wildly different from a normal process—and yet there were moments that felt comfortingly the same. With the world how it is, it was deeply reassuring to delve into theatrical structure and form, exploring how best to revise the project as it prepares for a public workshop reading at the Playhouse in the spring.

We hope that our programming this fall can offer a creative outlet for you, too. In particular, our Online Learning Labs are designed with distance learning and homeschooling in mind, serving as a free resource for teachers or parents with interactive activities for elementary and middle-schoolers. We hope that these Labs can spark inspiration—or that when you watch our artist interview series, our behind-the-scenes PlayLab videos, or our online readings themselves, the artists’ enthusiasm can buoy you up. We’re experiencing this pandemic right alongside you, and are grateful for the camaraderie and connections that endure.