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Charleston’s annual arts fest moves from the streets to our screens

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This year’s FestivALL in Charleston will look very different.

There won’t be the crowds on Capitol Street picking through the art fair. Children won’t be gathered out front of the downtown library to watch small dogs do tricks, gawk at people on stilts or see a magic show.

The wiener dogs will not run their races, and the Charleston Light Opera Guild won’t be opening its summer production. Thanks to COVID-19, the box office is currently closed.

But FestivALL still arrives in Charleston this week, and — backed by the power of the internet — FestivALL will be everywhere.

“FestivALL is needed now, more than ever,” FestivALL director Maria Belcher said. “This is for people can express themselves, explore their creativity and find whatever their souls need.”

The decision to go digital wasn’t an easy one.

Belcher explained that planning for the next FestivALL begins even before the current one is finished, though many of the details are worked out in the months in between. Much of FestivALL’s 14-day schedule had been put together by the time COVID-19 upended the world.

For the arts world, quarantine and social distancing was a disaster.

Galleries and museums locked their doors. Performance halls and clubs shut down. Broadway went dark, and the curtain fell on traveling theater companies. Festivals of every type and size were abruptly canceled.

But FestivALL decided to continue.

“Having to pivot 50 or 60 days out from an event we’d been planning for well over a year was nerve-wracking,” Belcher said.

But the different committees and directors met and talked it over.

“We couldn’t imagine a summer going by and Charleston not having FestivALL, no matter what it looked like,” she said.

Then organizers reached out to the artists and performers they’d signed to come to Charleston to see what could be done about the contracts.

Everyone was experiencing the same kind of trouble with canceled shows, lost revenue and an uncertain future.

Belcher said it was horrible for everyone, but everyone they dealt with was immediately accommodating.

“We rescheduled any personal event that couldn’t take place this June for a future date,” she said.

Some of the artists who were supposed to come to Charleston for FestivALL this year will appear next year. Others have been booked for other events that will take place in the city.

“We also have some exclusive FestivALL performances that will be a virtual experience this summer,” Belcher said.

This includes Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone of the performance art show “Air Play,” which was one of the most talked about events during the 2017 FestivALL.

The pair were scheduled to return this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, “Air Play” will instead perform during next summer’s FestivALL.

“But they put together an exclusive video to premiere during this year’s FestivALL,” Belcher said. “They’re also doing an artist Q&A.”

Viewers can register in advance of the question-and-answer session and then talk to the artists about their process, how they came up with the concept of “Air Play” and what goes into a performance.

“It’s a behind-the-scenes look with never-before-seen footage,” Belcher said.

While in-person performances aren’t the offering this year, the Belcher said some of the regular events had gotten creative.

The Smoke on the Water Chili Cookoff and Ice Cream & the Arts are still happening, though not in the usual sense. Smoke on the Water will have chili cooking tips and live music streamed through the FestivALL YouTube channel, and Ice Cream & the Arts will have a coloring challenge with downloadable coloring sheets available on the FestivALL website.

“Mountain Stage” will broadcast a best-of show, featuring highlighted performances from shows recorded during previous FestivALLs.

The live speaker series “Three Things” will have a special edition, featuring “Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce, country music star Kathy Mattea and actor-musician Michael Cerveris.

The Wine & Jazz Music Festival will broadcast live music, featuring international jazz artist Shubh Saran and the Bob Thompson Trio through Facebook and YouTube.

Through June 28, FestivALL will feature a virtual art fair, showcasing local and regional artists. There’s even some dance.

“One of the local dance companies helped make the connection with Alicia Mae Holloway,” Belcher said.

Holloway, a Morgantown native, dances with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She’ll be teaching a free class during FestivALL.

FestivALL won’t be like previous years, Belcher acknowledged, but she said there was still plenty to get excited about.

“By going virtual, we have an opportunity to shine a spotlight on local and regional artists,” she said. “There are plenty of people doing good work, right here in Charleston.”

Belcher said she hoped people would check out the virtual FestivALL and that while the experience of moving from an in-person festival to an online event wasn’t ideal, there were lessons to be learned.

“We’re looking forward to a time when we can safely gather, but there may be things that might be good to do in a virtual manner,” she said. “What we’re learning about digital content will help us.”

FestivALL will be held June 14 to June 28.

•••FestivALL virtual festival highlights

This is a short list of some of the many events taking place during FestivALL’s virtual arts and music festival. Many of them are recurring and can be seen following their premiere dates. All are free, except where otherwise noted. For additional details, including information about other shows and events, visit festivallcharleston.com.

June 14-28:

Virtual Art Fair: Juried art fair of local and regional artists. Items available for sale. On June 27, there will be a behind-the-scenes looks at artists, performances by local musicians and street performers on YouTube beginning at 1 p.m.

June 14 and June 16-20

The Eugene O’Neill Project (3 p.m. June 14. 7 p.m. June 16-20): Online live production of scenes from the works of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Presented by the Alban Arts Center. Tickets $10 through onthestage.com.

June 15

From Screen to Stage: Transforming Paradise Park the movie to the staged musical, with Larry Groce and Danny Boyd (7 to 8:30 p.m.): Discussion and question/answer about the original 1992 film and its adaptation to a musical.

June 17

Three Things — My First, My Favorite, My Future (7 to 8:30 p.m.): Speaker series with “Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce, Grammy winner Kathy Mattea and Tony Award-winner Michael Cerveris.

June 18

Charleston Light Opera Guild Panel Discussion (7 to 8:30 p.m.): Panel discussion with CLOG musical directors John Marshall, Bobby Hodges Jr. and David Patrick, moderated by Artistic Director Nina Denton Pasinetti and additional information from Guild Board President Scott Jarrell. Pasinetti and Scott Jarrell will answer questions following.

June 19

Dance Class with Alicia Mae Holloway (3 to 4:30 p.m.): Free online ballet class with professional ballet dancer and West Virginia native Alicia Mae Holloway, dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem.

June 20

“Mountain Stage” FestivALL Favorites (8 p.m.): Selections of performances from previous FestivALL broadcasts. With Wood Brothers, Todd Snider, Lucius and more. Show airs on West Virginia Public Radio.

June 21

Appalachian Authors Roundtable (3 to 5 p.m.): Showcase and talk with poets James Harms, Mary Moore, Elizabeth Savage and Cameron Barnett. Hosted by West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman.

June 24

Andre Van Damme and The Story of The Charleston Ballet (7 to 9 p.m.): Emmy-Award winning documentary about the Charleston Ballet’s history with exclusive interviews, rare archival footage and photographs.

June 25

A Glimpse into the World of Air Play (6 p.m.): Behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the show.

June 26-28

“A Wrinkle In Time” (8 p.m. June 26 and 27, 2 p.m. June 28): Alban Arts production of the fantasy novel by Madeleine L’Engle. Tickets $10 available through Facebook or albanartscenter.com.

June 27

Virtual Wine & Jazz Festival (6 to 8:30 p.m.): With Bob Thompson Trio and Shubh Saran. Hosted by Fund for the Arts on Facebook.

June 28

Q&A with the artists of Air Play (4 to 5 p.m.): Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone answer questions from fans and give insight into the production of their show.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap/ and read his blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth.