Opera and theater’s Prototype Festival pushed mostly online

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the world’s top festivals of contemporary opera and theater has shifted format because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ninth annual Prototype festivals opens Friday night with the world premiere of “Modulation,” a self-guided digital work for distanced times by 13 composers exploring isolation, identity, and fear.

Two other world premieres will be presented through Jan. 16, including “Times3″ a digital audio collage by composer Pamela Z and theater artist Geoff Sobelle in New York’s Times Square, and “Ocean Body,” a multi-screen and music installation for in-person audiences of four a time at HERE Mainstage in lower Manhattan.

There also will be three U.S. digital premieres: Ben Frost and Petter Ekmann’s “The Murder of Halit Yozgat;” Valgeir Sigurðsson’s “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists;” and by Septina Rosalina Laya’s “The Planet — A Lament.”

Beth Morrison, a former administrator at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute and producer of New York City Opera’s contemporary showcase VOX, runs the festival with Kristin Marting of HERE, dedicated to hybrid live performances in theater, dance, music and visual art, and with Jecca Barry, the executive director of Beth Morrison Projects.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we wildly underbudgeted ticket revenues for this festival, because most of the offerings are free,” Barry said.

Recent festivals included Ellen Reid’s “prism” (2019) and Du Yun’s “Angel’s Bone,” both Pulitzer Prize winners, and Missy Mazzoli’s acclaimed “Breaking the Waves.”

Plans to shift to digital thus year started in late April.

About 10,000 had attended each recent festival. The budget dropped from just over $1 million to far less for this year.

Because of the pandemic, Barry said only one seasonal staff member was hired for the festival in addition to two full-time festival staff members year-round, down from the usual five or six additions. While the festival hired about 500-600 artists last year, this year’s total is 150-180.

World premieres planned for 2021 were put off until 2022.

“We hope it picks up with no skipping,” Morrison said, “But I think we’ve picked up the pieces in a pretty exciting way. We have 19 composers we’re working with who we’re really excited to be featuring, who we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise collaborate with.”