NY PopsUp, a months-long festival starting February 20 that is billed by organizers as a model for how live performances can return amid Covid-19, has set details for its high-profile inaugural edition.
Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo first revealed the initiative, which will run through Labor Day via a public-private partnership overseen by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal. PopsUp events, which will span New York City’s five boroughs as well as upstate and Western New York, will be accessible to the public and most are free of charge. Confirmed performers include Hugh Jackman, Renée Fleming, Amy Schumer, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patti Smith, Mandy Patinkin, Q-Tip and Billy Porter. (See below for a more complete list.)
The fest, according to the announcement, is “intended to revitalize the spirit and emotional well-being of New York citizens with the energy of live performance while jumpstarting New York’s struggling live entertainment sector.” The New York State Council on the Arts and Empire State Development are coordinating closely with organizers.
Asked at his daily news briefing today about whether the festival would be a union affair (a relevant question given the devastating effect of the pandemic on the performance community) Cuomo said he did not know. “I would have to check,” he said. Actor’s Equity tweeted at Cuomo, “If it’s not union, it’s neither safe nor fair. We’re ready to do this work together, with union protections.”
Cuomo’s communications director later issued a statement clarifying the union element. “This exciting initiative is about bringing back the arts and supporting an industry whose workers were devastated by Covid,” the statement said. “Artists will be compensated and we’re working with relevant labor organizations including Local 802, Actors Equity, IATSE and the AFL-CIO to ensure they’re a part of this process, and with Department of Health’s rigorous safety precautions we know these will be done safely.”
Events will “ignite imaginative collisions of different artforms,” a press release promised. The lineup is highlighted by two summer happenings: the 20th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival in June and a new festival in a brand-new venue, Little Island. The park and performance space on Pier 55 along the Hudson River was conceived in 2014 as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Its development was spearheaded by media and tech mogul Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. After a series of construction delays and squabbles with opponents like real estate titan Douglas Durst, it is due to be completed in the spring.
Programming for NY PopsUp is being curated by interdisciplinary artist Zack Winokur, along with a council of artistic advisors spanning the state’s artistic communities. Performances will be in “lock step with state public health officials,” adhering to all Covid-19 safety protocols.
“Cities have taken a real blow during Covid, and the economy will not come back fast enough on its own – we must bring it back,” Cuomo said in the press release. “Creative synergies are vital for cities to survive, and our arts and cultural industries have been shut down all across the country, taking a terrible toll on workers and the economy. We want to be aggressive with reopening the state and getting our economy back on track, and NY PopsUp will be an important bridge to the broader reopening of our world-class performance venues and institutions.”
One signature aspect of the festival will be an inventive use of the natural and built environment across the city and state. Transit stations, parks, subway platforms, museums, skate parks, street corners, fire escapes, parking lots, storefronts and other spaces will become performance venues. Rather than the usual mentality of event production, which is to pack venues with mass audiences, the festival will aim to transform commutes, communities and spaces not usually thought of as arts-oriented. PopsUp will be a mass of events, scaled for safe and modest-sized gatherings of spectators.
As Covid restrictions loosen over the course of the year, organizers and officials say NY PopsUp will serve as a model for the reopening of multidisciplinary, flexible venues throughout the state. They will be the very first indoor performances since the pandemic began in early 2020 and will be a milestone in the state’s recovery. After the coronavirus swept through China and then Italy and Western Europe, it found its global epicenter in New York City. Over several weeks in March and April, city residents endured a nerve-janging series of events, with hospitals overflowing and sirens wailing.
So-called “flex venues,” whose non-fixed seating and adaptable design makes them well-suited to social distancing and capacity restrictions are seen as a key step before more permanent venues like Broadway or Lincoln Center could reopen. Examples include The Shed, The Apollo, Harlem Stage, La MaMa, and the Glimmerglass Festival’s Alice Busch Opera Theater. All indoor events will strictly follow Department of Health public health and safety guidance.
“Having artists call on other artists as a means to build this festival’s giant creative community will spur opportunities for wild, bold, and intimate collaborations that would never otherwise have been possible. As a result, the work presented will represent a near limitless range, colliding disparate styles, disciplines, and points-of-view to infiltrate the daily lives of New Yorkers in genuinely surprising and unprecedented
ways,” Winokur explained.“Ultimately, this Festival is about using art as a means of reestablishing human connection.”
Confirmed performers from the realms of theater, dance, poetry, comedy, pop music, opera and much more include Hugh Jackman, Renée Fleming, Amy Schumer, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Isabel Leonard, Nico Muhly, Joyce DiDonato, John Early and Kate Berlant, Patti Smith, Mandy Patinkin, Raja Feather Kelly, J’Nai Bridges, Kenan Thompson, Gavin Creel, Garth Fagan, Larry Owens, Q-Tip, Billy Porter, Conrad Tao, Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber, Tina Landau, Rhiannon Giddens, Aparna Nancherla, Anthony Rodriguez, Jonathan Groff, Savion Glover, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Chris Celiz, Christine Goerke, Kelli O’Hara, Dev Hynes, Phoebe Robinson, Sara Mearns, George Saunders, Caleb Teicher, Danielle Brooks, Jeremy Denk, Idina Menzel, Sondra Radvanovsky, Gaby Moreno, Davóne Tines, Jerrod Carmichael, Taylor Mac, Sutton Foster, Jessie Mueller, and Courtney ToPanga Washington.
“As two lifelong New Yorkers, it has been utterly devastating to see our creative community brought to an absolute standstill for a year,” Rudin and Rosenthal said in a joint statement. “It’s inconceivable. We both spend our lives generating opportunities for artists, so we were both thrilled to be asked by Governor Cuomo to try to ignite a spark to bring art and performance back to life for the State. The passionate enthusiasm of every person we asked to join us in this incentive is going to make this a labor of both love and invention. We’re honored to be spearheading this campaign. Frankly, our most profound hope is that by the time NY PopsUp culminates on Labor Day, New York will be fully on the way to being reopened and revitalized and that this initiative, having served its purpose, will no longer be necessary. It’s the spark, not the fire — the fire is the complete return of all the arts, in their full glory, standing as they always have for the rich, emotional life of the city and state in which we both live.”
Rudin, in addition to his ongoing work in film and television, is heavily invested in Broadway theater. Rosenthal, who is producing partners with Robert De Niro, co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival as a response to the attacks of 9/11.
The Festival at Little Island will run August 11 to September 5, with a total of 325 performances by about 500 artists.
Beginning Saturday, February 20 (Opening Day), members of the artists council will lead a performance at the Javits Center as a special tribute to healthcare workers. The performance will feature Jon Batiste, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Ayodele Casel, and additional special guests.
Throughout the day, the performers will travel around New York City, meeting audiences at various locations throughout all five boroughs in courtyards, workplaces, parks, and street corners, at the footsteps of locations such as, Flushing Post Office, Elmhurst Hospital, and St. Barnabas Hospital. Saturday will conclude with one of Batiste’s signature Love Riots beginning at Walt Whitman Park and ending at Golconda Playground in Brooklyn.
On February 21, choreographer Garth Fagan’s company will lead a special performance at the MAGIC Spell Studios at the Rochester Institute of Technology as a tribute to staffers who have made it possible for RIT to stay open and safe during the pandemic.
Other performances will include Patti Smith at the Brooklyn Museum in remembrance of the passing of Robert Mapplethorpe.
Partnership with “Works & Process” at the Guggenheim, that will take brilliant new performances beyond the famed Rotunda to locations around the boroughs.
Collaborations include George Gershwin’s anthem to New York City, Rhapsody in Blue, performed by New York’s own pianist and composer, Conrad Tao, with new choreography by Caleb Teicher; The Missing Element, a beatbox and street dance collaboration, featuring Chris Celiz and Anthony
Rodriguez’s “Invertebrate”; and Masterz at Work Dance Family performing a brand-new dance by choreographer Courtney ToPanga Washington.
A series of performances in storefront windows, amplified out onto the street, from artists including Gavin Creel, J’Nai Bridges, Davóne Tines, Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber.
A live series hosted by Chris Thile will take place on stoops all over New York, from Brooklyn and the East Village to the steps of Albany’s Empire State Plaza across from the Capitol building.
A series of dynamic and participatory performances created by Ayodele Casel taking place in the lobbies of free museums throughout the City of New York, including the Brooklyn Museum and Queens Museum.