Angelica in Quarantine

A screenshot of the “Angelica in Quarantine” concert on Dec. 16

Ingenuity and resilience, by most measures the survival tools of the hour, are the topic of this year’s Dewey talks, an annual program presented by the Friends of the Hastings Library. 

“Dewey Does Adaptation: A Covid Sampler” will feature professionals from the creative, legal, and medical worlds discussing how they pivoted to working virtually. The four monthly talks, which begin next Sunday, Jan. 31, will be held via Zoom, each starting at 2 p.m. To register, email HastingsLibraryEvent@gmail.com

Samuel Harps, founder and artistic director of the Shades Repertory Theater in upstate Garnerville starts off the series, followed Marie Caruso, artistic director of the Angelica Women’s Chamber Choir, together with audio and video editor Erik-Peter Mortensen, on Feb. 21. On March 21, Steven M. Haber, Esq., litigation counselor at Bloomberg LP, and Felise Milan, M.D., professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the Ruth L. Gottesman Clinical Skills Center share the podium, and Jason Brantman and Fiona Santos, artistic directors of the Broadway Training Center in Hastings, round out the program on April 18.

“We wanted the series to be broader than just discussing the regular use of Zoom, as there are now many aspects of the use of technology and new ways of doing business,” said Michele Ankuda, board president of the Friends of the Library.

Board member Toni Thomas coordinated the speakers, and Friends vice president Sharon DeLevie will serve as moderator. 

Harps, who lives in Rockland County, will describe in “Finding Creative Solace in Chaos” how the Irvington Theater’s online “Arts Incubator” helped him during the pandemic when all theaters went dark.

“I will talk about how I coped as a playwright and how interacting with the people involved with ‘Incubator,’ via Zoom meetings, inspired me, got me up off the couch, and motivated me to begin writing again,” Harps told the Enterprise. “Using all safety guidelines, my actors and I were able to film what I wrote at the time. Clips from ‘Black and Blue: Parts I and II’ and ‘Racing the Sun’ will be shown and discussed in the Q&A format Sharon has put together.”

The title of Caruso’s presentation, “Keeping a Choir Together During the Pandemic,” underscores the challenges she and the members of Angelica faced, as singing is considered a “super spreader” activity. The choir produced a virtual concert, “Angelica in Quarantine,” on Dec. 16. A CD of that concert will be available this spring.

“It was difficult and not fun, really, especially in the beginning for those members who don’t use a computer regularly,” Caruso acknowledged. 

Caruso, a longtime Hastings resident, is a founding member of the choir, and its artistic director since 2005. She is also adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Music Education at CUNY Hunter College.

“It was devastating when our May concerts at First Reformed Church in Hastings and at Saint John the Divine in New York were cancelled, as we wanted to make music,” Caruso said. “Erik-Peter, who lives nearby in Yonkers, made everything happen and found a way to join voices with faces. Plus, he is an outstanding musician as well as being good with audio and video equipment.”

Putting together “voices with faces” involved each member of the choir making audio and video recordings of themselves singing, and sending it all to Mortensen, who edited the pieces into a form that could be viewed on Zoom and YouTube.

“Now we are considering our options,” Caruso continued. “Our May concert at First Reformed Church in Hasting is questionable, so we are back to taking it one day at a time. But we are also looking into a type of software that would let us sing together — virtually, of course.”

Haber and Milan will discuss how going virtual changed the way they work. Milan, an Irvington resident, will focus on “how clinical instructors utilized technology to teach what had always been presented in person, plus the communication skills required by the shift to telehealth visits,” according to the Friends’ press release. Haber, of Hastings, will use a modified version of a PowerPoint presentation he made for the legal department at Bloomberg.

“It’s an interesting process to have a trial via Zoom,” he said. “It’s more efficient for the lawyers, as you don’t have the wait time in the corridor. Plus the judge can see the witness’s face straight on rather than the profile he normally sees. It remains to be seen whether, post pandemic, judges in bench trials, where there are no juries, opt to remain virtual.”

Brantman and Santos had yet to finalize how they would showcase  “adaptation”; for them, the next few months could mean a whole new song and dance. 

The Dewey series itself, now in its eighth season, is representative of this year’s theme. It has adapted and, like the presenters, is reaching people via Zoom.

“I’m a big fan of unintended consequences when they are positive, and, while the pandemic is awful, with challenge comes opportunity,” Ankuda said. “All of our events are now available to a much wider audience.”

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