BWW Exclusive: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Co-Founder of Mixed Magic Theatre- 'The New Better Will Not Be an Accident'
Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, co-founder of Mixed Magic Theatre, has penned an article exclusively for BroadwayWorld, discussing his thoughts on this current moment in time, the theater's plans for moving forward and more.
Read his article below.
At Mixed Magic Theatre we've always had to be nimble. While we have not worked afraid of the other shoe dropping, we were always aware that it was dangling over our head. You cannot create great art being quick on your feet, it has to be made in spite of having to be unsure of what comes next. The condition is no fun, but solving the problem is a challenge that fires the spirit of theatre artists no matter what institutional, historical or financial level you're working at.
Covid-19 has made the entire arts world black like me. Suddenly everyone has been forced to a level playing field. It will not stay that way, but it will never go back to the way it was. At Mixed Magic we say all the time, "We don't want to go back to normal, we want to go forward to better."
With better in mind, Mixed Magic made the decision early in the pandemic, that this horrible time was the time to reimagine what we do and how we do it. I'm not sure who first said, "Never let a good crisis go to waste", but it was a concept that we embraced. We saw the tsunami coming, knew we couldn't stop it, so we started thinking about the new better.
We had to do a serious evaluation about who and what made up Mixed Magic Theatre. It had been clear for a long time the company's engine was fueled by the Pitts-Wiley family and a few dedicated artists. It could not stay that way. We were not running out of gas, we wanted to run faster and not fear that we might out pace our resources. Okay, game on. We needed to be younger, not just by years, but our vision of the future.
We asked ourselves, what is our most valuable asset? That was easy. It was not our venues, or even our history, it was the desire to create great live human experiences. Experiences that made people in the audience and the performers say, "I am so happy to be a witness to this." Then later it would be said, "You've got to go, and you have to be there."
"You've got to go, you have to be there", is what we had in mind when Mixed Magic came to believe that we would not be able to present live theater indoors until Spring of 2021 at the earliest. That we were going to have to work with Zoom but not count on Zoom, and its limitations, to stay connected to our audience. The challenge was to figure out a way to capture the energy and commitment of artists for brief and powerful moments that made people long for the real thing. The team at Mixed Magic were all inspired by our own Exult Choir and the "From Now On" saloon dance scene in the movie The Greatest Showman. They somehow managed to capture the raw power, athleticism and commitment of Broadway dancers doing what they do. So we decided to temporarily convert our mainstage theater into a three cubicle stage divided by glass doors so artists working together could see and interact with each other safely.
Each cubicle would have its own lighting, sound video recording system, and there would be the chance to add certain production elements such as set pieces and costumes. Musicians would be able to play together and singers harmonize in real time.
One key decision we made was to not try to replace the live experience with a technical one. We didn't want to make movies or music videos. We wanted to capture what the audience would see if they were there. In this regard video sessions would be limited to one scene or collection of poems or one scene from a musical or one song, nothing longer than 10 minutes.
This is a grand experiment for Mixed Magic, but we believe there is a chance to get it right enough to keep Mixed Magic and perhaps others in sight and mind until we can share living space and time again.
On a final note, the new better will not be an accident. Arts organizations, the State of Rhode Island and the business sector must somehow come together to re-brand the Ocean State as a great place to see a wide variety of great art. It cannot be a question of if we can do it, it will be an exciting problem to solve, which is what artists do all the time.
If you are a Black artist or an artist of color and would like to share your stories, your work, and your experiences, or to recommend someone else that we should get in touch with for one of our initiatives, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.