Aurora's Paramount Theatre is connecting to audiences near and far in the absence of live performance during the COVID-19 quarantine. Every Saturday night for the last five weeks, thousands of people tuned in to Paramount’s social feeds to watch the “Connection Social Media Concerts.” With themes that change weekly, musicians, poets and dancers submit original work inspired by these complicated times. Amber Mak, the theater’s new works development director, is the multitalented mind and big heart behind the online performances.
“All of this is created with a spirit of adaptation and collaboration. And with technology being what it is today, we have to opportunity to explore virtual concerts,” Mak said about the origin of the project. “People miss being able to enjoy live performances, so I think these concerts are a great alternative. It’s certainly better than having nothing at all.”
Any interested artist can submit to the program. Every Wednesday, Paramount Theatre releases the theme for the following week’s performance on their social media pages. Artists then have one week—Wednesday to Wednesday—to create original content that coincides with the theme. Each performance lasts just 30 minutes, to prevent overdoing screen time. But in the spirit of appreciating the effort that goes into making art, some of the pieces which aren’t part of the performances are posted as extra content on Paramount’s Facebook page.
“Artists are expert procrastinators, and we need deadlines,” Mak mused. “With only a week to create a new piece, it keeps artists engaged in a time when creativity might feel a little stifled.”
The series now highlights artists of all genres, but the Connection Concerts started out as a project solely for songwriters. “I initially thought it would be great to show people original music that reflects the current situation we’re in,” said Mak, “but then I thought about my background as a dancer and choreographer and figured it would be a great idea to expand the parameters for submission.” In addition to her role at Paramount, Mak is a Jeff Award Nominee for her work as director and choreographer of the venue’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Mak said each round has yielded between 10 and 30 submissions, and she aims to select a mix of age ranges and artistic genres. “The only reason we wouldn’t take something is if it doesn’t quite fit the theme or doesn’t seem like it was created recently,” she said. “We’re really trying to promote artists who are creating work specifically for these concerts.”
“We want to connect with and honor how things have changed during this time," said Mak. "The stay-at-home order requires that people work from home and students stay out of school, so that alone is how we came up with the first two themes: Songs about Home and Songs about School.” More recently, the concert centered around the passage of time, and Connection recently featured its first dance piece, a work called “Best is Yet to Come” by local choreographer Mary Heyl.
For future applicants hoping to have their choreography or other art featured in these shows, upcoming themes include mothers, in honor of Mother’s Day, and “the celebration of little things.”
“With the stay-at-home orders being extended, we’re planning to continue the concerts through the end of May.” Paramount Theatre plans to release the themes for the entire month on their social media in the coming days to give artists more time to think about the content they wish to create. “After that I think we’ll keep them going until we’re allowed to gather in larger numbers for performances. These concerts give people the opportunity to enjoy the feelings that come from seeing live art while also remaining healthy at home.”