Festival aims to expand reach of performing arts
The pandemic got a lot of charities thinking about how they could do things differently.
Outreach was something the Bermuda Festival successfully focused on; 750 students participated virtually last year.
The hope is to build on that when the 48th Bermuda Festival starts next month. Aside from the regular offerings to students, nine free workshops are available to the general public as well as several classes to special interest groups.
“We're really excited about this outreach programme,” said Cindy Campbell, the charity’s executive director. “We have reached over 11,000 students in the last ten years essentially and, even through the pandemic, we made sure that we continued.
“When we were redesigning things and rethinking things, we really wanted the Festival to have a longer lasting impact on the island and the island's culture and we felt that outreach was the best way to do that.”
The belief is that outreach provides a “more personal, impact; a closer connection with the artist” than simply watching a show.
“And so this year, we've expanded the outreach programmes and we're also reaching out to some communities that we haven't reached out to before,” Ms Campbell said.
“We will have some special outreach programmes that are going to reach neurodiverse audiences like the autistic community. We are working with the prisons; Actors From The London Stage will be doing workshops at Westgate. And so we're super excited about the outreach programme this year.”
Outreach is offered free of charge through the support of sponsors.
The Festival committee believes the artists “have incredible knowledge to share” and the workshops give the community the opportunity to soak it up.
“Each year outreach sessions are specifically designed to provide an exciting programme for Bermuda’s youth and seniors to learn from these artists. Outreach sessions are offered to all public, private and home school students from primary to senior schools along with seniors.”
Workshops can last up to an hour and are designed so they are appropriate for a designated age group.
“The Bermuda Festival works with each artist to determine the focus of each session. Each outreach session is unique. For example, a masterclass for advanced violin students with a world-renowned violinist, or a vocal class with high school students led by an artist who grew up in Bermuda but now works on Broadway; a singalong for primary school students with a jazz musician, or a dance class focusing on traditional African dance. The look in a student’s eyes when being coached by and receiving praise from a world class artist is as rewarding as it is unforgettable.”
Thirty-seven workshops are on offer; 900 people have already signed up.
Eleven acts are on the bill of the six-month season. Each had a community programme of their own in place.
It was quickly discovered that “a key part” of the outreach done by Actors From The London Stage was in prisons.
As such the group will go into Westgate Correctional Facility while here with the help of sponsor, Butterfield Bank.
Meanwhile Claudia Zanes, a licensed music therapist, and her husband Dan “specialise in neurodiverse audiences”.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to reach out to [people] that we may not have reached out to before. Basically, we're really trying to spread the impact of the Bermuda Festival so it is much wider than just the theatre walls.
“The thing about Actors From The London Stage is there were many subjects that they could talk on, because acting is about controlling emotions, and it's also about communicating. So we gave the prison a lot of different options of what they could choose from.”
Ms Campbell continued: “Every single performer is conducting a bespoke outreach for Bermuda. And we work very hard to make sure that we target different age groups – from primary all the way through senior school.”
The idea is to “educate and inspire” people “about the value of performing arts”, she added.
“We know for a fact, having talked to some of our outreach alumni, that it is the Festival outreach that inspired them to either take up an instrument or major in performing arts and performing arts is really important.”
Many people rate the arts below sport in terms of the benefits offered. Ms Campbell disagrees.
“Performing arts does the same thing,” she said. “If you want to teach people how to work in teams, how to be self-disciplined, how to communicate …. performing arts does all of that. You can't be in a play without being a team member or having the self-discipline to learn your lines; if you sing, you have to rehearse. There are so many studies that show society is much better off when you've got a strong performing arts base.”
The executive director is excited for this upcoming season which will have “the biggest outreach offering ever”.
“It’s the first time that we really included a significant community outreach portion and the decision to do that was just because we wanted to increase the impact of the festival to the community. That’s really critical for the long-term impact.”