DanceForce Member: Robin Collen
Artists: Hettie Barnhill, Robert Gertler
Community Partners: Community Performance Series, Potsdam; SUNY Potsdam Department of Theatre and Dance
County: St. Lawrence
My goal was to support the creation of a film of Hettie Barnhill’s production, “Create a Space NOW” to be shown to the North Country community in lieu of an on-campus residency (due to COVID-19). The film’s title is: “A Love Letter to Brian, Lesley, and Michelle.” [Note: “Create a Space NOW” is the title of the original on-stage production, as well as Ms. Barnhill’s company.
My primary objectives were to (1) support the creation of a film that the artists could use now, and in the future, to share their work, and (2) present an artistic production that revolves around important themes: racism, white privilege, social justice, body image, and gender.
Principal artists were Hettie Barnhill and Robert Gertler.
In planning, it took some convincing on my part to encourage Hettie to make a film in lieu of visiting Potsdam. Hettie and Robert determined and executed the processes of recruiting personnel, rehearsing, filming, and editing. Hettie rehearsed with individual performers virtually. Hettie had previously performed “Create a Space NOW” live at Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY. The theater gave her the space for free for filming; the performers worked in the theater with safety protocols in place. The final film also included other previously recorded material. Meghan Stever and Vanessa Vaverchak from Community Performance Series (SUNY Potsdam) were immensely helpful in working with the artists on audience registration/online ticketing, customer service, marketing on/off-campus, social media, proof-reading program copy, “running” the performance, & executing the post-performance survey.
There were 3 activities:
- Performances on Vimeo, February 14, 15, and 16.
- Talk-back over Zoom, following each performance.
- Written audience survey. Hettie was interested in receiving responses from the audience to these questions:
• What are your first reactions from watching “A Love Letter to Brian, Lesley, and Michelle”?
• Would you tell others about this performance? Why or why not?
• What do you believe the director and artists’ intentions were in making this production?
• In what other educational, commercial, community, or corporate spaces do you see this type of work implemented?
• How many in your household watched A Love Letter to Brian, Lesley, and Michelle, and what were their ages?
• Do you give me permission to Create a Space NOW [Barnhill’s company] to include your feedback (if selected) on their site, for marketing purposes?
• Demographic questions included highest degree, gender, ethnic, and sexual identity.
Regarding advertising, Community Performance Series personnel handled the promotion and marketing through its website, Facebook event page, and Vimeo page (with the film trailer), & Department of Theatre and Dance Facebook page and website. I personally advertised the production through mass emails to SUNY Potsdam faculty, staff, and students. Because an alumna of the Dance Program was performing in this production, I contacted the alumni office and an article was published (see this website): https://www.potsdam.edu/news/suny-potsdam-dance-theatre-premiere-examine-persistent-racial-issues
Community partners were Community Performance Series’ Meghan Stever and Vanessa Vaverchak, who made this project work. They have the know-how to produce virtual events—which I do not have—and much of my anxiety in pivoting from in-person to virtual for this project was lifted, due to them. Due to COVID-19, their work schedules (with in-person productions) were greatly lightened, so they had time to help me.
The majority of audience members were from Northern New York, but, because this was a virtual performance, we had participants from Buffalo, NYC, and elsewhere around the state.