BWW Spotlight Series: Meet Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance
With the current theatre world on hiatus, I have created a Spotlight Series on Broadway World which features interviews with some of the many talented artists who make our Los Angeles theatre community so exciting and vibrant thanks to their ongoing contribution to keeping the Arts alive in the City of the Angels. And just like all of us, I wondered how they are dealing with the abrupt end of productions in which they were involved. This Spotlight focuses on Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance.
Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about you and CAP UCLA?
Kristy Edmonds (Kristy): UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance produces and supports programming that builds a community around the world's creative artists whose ideas find a home in contemporary theater, dance, music, writing and collaboration. Artists that have achieved a towering legacy in their chosen art forms, alongside those who are well on their way because of their generous and singular vision. At CAP UCLA we leave no stone unturned in assuring that people (in every age, culture and means) have artists in their lives one project at a time.
(SB): What production(s) were you (and/or your company) involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?
(Kristy): After presenting Octavia Butler's Parable of The Sower by Toshi Reagon, on the now legendary evening of March 7, there were but days before the safer at home order would come in. An additional 13 performances were immediately impacted. Our work began in earnest for postponing (cancelling was a last measure position for us), and important in every discussion around rescheduling was CAP UCLA's commitment that we would not leave artists, managers and audiences out to dry, as we knew that artists and their creative teams would be in a severe cash flow challenge (one that would move from stressful to imperiling within weeks as more organizations began to cancel). But none of us anticipated the long duration of the marathon this would rapidly evolve into.
In our situation at CAP UCLA, I had an enhanced vantage point because of the leadership of UCLA - they were responsibly addressing a scale of change that was unfathomable and because of the transparency of critical decision-making, I had a slight head start on the crucial reality of public safety measures spreading in every direction imaginable. We had to all focus on the huge contour and the exacting detail concurrently. I remember getting off of a Zoom call and saying to myself: "Kristy Edmunds, this is not a surreal dream this is happening. You have to move NOW, you'll add to the chaos if you wait a second longer."
As hard as it was, it ensured that no one was left unaddressed - not my staff, not the audience, our supporters, associated businesses and not the artists. I knew what the scale of impact would be to artists instantly, this is my profession after all. But I didn't know it would spread to all of us in every allied workforce and in all walks of life. That equally heart-breaking realization would come later (and rapidly).
(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the artists and production teams?
(Kristy): With all speed and with emotional intelligence. CAP UCLA one of the first performing arts organizations to suspend our programs, so everyone effected would have a different level of awareness and the impact would be different for everyone. I knew that there would be a shock reaction, or a denial impulse (the show must go on!), and then too the gracious diplomacy of understanding. It would land differently for everyone, and everyone would be affected unevenly. Our imperative was that every artist would be supported, and every ticket holder would be refunded. We were bleeding of course, but we acted on principle and did not stand still in justifiable but acutely problematic suspended animation.
(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?
(Kristy): Yes, there are plans in place for future dates and all of us are operating from plan A, B, C and D. We have also worked closely with artists to explore what approaches for presenting their works will look like, and we will start the soft launch of the programming for the upcoming season in a few weeks.
Every project is now rescheduled, or being re-developed. Some are being filmed and we will present the work online later. Some projects have jumped to the fall of 2021 to get to more solid ground where it may be less crazed by uncertainty. Others are adjusting their work for new platforms and we are there for that as well.
It's different for each artist and each art form, and with everything still changing, it's about generating continuity with far less means. All is considered and thought through after many earnest discussions, and in a full recognition that the future of anyone's capacity is subject to change. For CAP UCLA this means we have had to create possibilities and innovate for the most immediate future as well as the further flung horizon line.
(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?
(Kristy): We have this rapidly assembled "newsletter" generated weekly. It's actually becoming a real touch stone for our audiences locally, nationally and around the world. Once the programming for next season is announced, we will all have a lot to look forward to as well.
(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghost light on and promising to return back to the stage soon?
(Kristy): Each of us have assets that are strained now beyond our wildest imagining. It was hard enough before. We do not know how long we can survive in this suspension or what proceeding will look like. But we are an incredible part of the cultural infrastructure of the city and country, and the more we are able to collaborate together, the better off our ecology will be as we work on recovery.
(SB): And with forced theater closures world-wide and long-range performance cancellations, presenting organizations are faced with a myriad of challenges as they navigate artist support with organizational sustainability, and how to plan for an unknown future. Here is a link to a Conversation with Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director, UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance, and Lauren Snelling, Senior Director of Alumni Programming, National YoungArts Foundation, in which Kristy offers an honest conversation addressing the harsh realities associated with a return to public gatherings and ongoing postponements and cancellations, as well as a hopeful perspective on alternatives for artists operating in a virtual landscape and her motivation to activate recovery for the preservation of America's cultural ecosystem. https://youtu.be/IxtXByDDikU
Just announced: CAP UCLA, Fuel and Uninvited Guests are presenting "Love Letters Straight From Your Heart" on Zoom on Wed, June 10, 2020, at 2 p.m. PDT. Tickets are free, up to 90 participants, pre-registration required at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/love-letters-straight-from-your-heart-tickets-104554874444. "Love Letters at Home" is an intimate participatory event where the audience and performers offer dedications and declarations of love, past and present. Each production is collaboratively authored with its audience, who temporarily becomes a community of close friends across the performance. Before the show, people who book 'tickets' are invited to send in music requests and to write dedications to those they love or care about, and these are then worked into the event.
Websites and social media:
Kristy Edmunds, Executive & Artistic Director of Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA - Photo by Reed Hutchinson
Production photos of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and "Parable" by Phinn Sriployrung
"Parable of a Sower" group photo by Paul Marotta
Photo inside Royce Hall courtesy of CAP UCLA
"Love Letters Straight From Your Heart" promotional photo provided by CAP UCLA