How The Shed is Bringing Live Performances Back to New York City

Adam Rathe
·5 min read
Photo credit: Jason Schmidt
Photo credit: Jason Schmidt

The Shed, the 200,000-square-foot arts venue that opened in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards in the spring of 2019, has been—like so many arts institutions—closed for the majority of the past year. But, as the performing arts begin to come back in New York City and around the world, the Shed is among the first spaces to welcome back performers and audiences alike.

On April 2, the Shed kicked off its “An Audience with” series with a performance by singer and cellist Kelsey Lu, and the programming will continue on April 14 and 15 with musicians from the New York Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, an April 21 performance by Renée Fleming, Bill Frisell, Christian McBride, and Dan Tepfer, and an April 22 set from comedian Michelle Wolf.

Photo credit: An Rong Xu
Photo credit: An Rong Xu

All of the performances are being mounted with safety protocols very much in mind. The performances will all be held in the McCourt, the Shed’s flexible 18,000-square-foot space, which boasts a MERV ventilation system and 115-foot-high ceilings, with plenty of room for socially distanced seating for 150 audience members, all of whom will wear masks, fill out health questionnaires, and have their temperature taken in addition to other health protocols. They’ll also pave the way for upcoming programs, including the second edition of the Shed’s “Open Call” program, the first Manhattan edition of the Frieze Art Fair in May, and a collaboration with the Tribeca Film Festival in June.

Here, Alex Poots, the Shed’s artistic director and CEO, explains how the series came to be, what audiences can expect, and what New York’s culture vultures might still have to look forward to.

I'm sure you've been thinking about coming back for a while, but what was the genesis of this particular program?

The last year has been phenomenally painful for our sector. One the real rays of light for us at The Shed was being part of a task force with other colleagues, which started last June. We came together, organized by New York State, with [a group including] Harlem Stage, Park Avenue Armory, the National Black Theater, and we would meet regularly. By the end of the year, we had collectively come up with what we felt was a really robust, safe set of protocols and guidelines for reopening when the time was right.

Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz - Getty Images
Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz - Getty Images

What our flexible spaces had was this ability to adapt, and the pandemic environment required things like social distancing... So, we moved our front door to the fire exits so people can come straight off the plaza and into this performance space.

This series of performances will include orchestral performances, singing, and comedy. How did you decide to start with this group of performances?

Maybe because I started with music as a kid and that's what I studied, but it felt like could create something significant, joyful, meaningful, and adaptable to these regulations, using music and also comedy. That led us to an artist who we actually launched The Shed with, Kelsey Lu, who was part of our “Soundtrack of America,” which Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones conceived. Kelsey's making a special performance that will just happen once with a preview and it's made for this reawakening.

Then, we've been talking to our friends at the New York Philharmonic for many years about what would be the right project to do together, and sadly The Shed was shuttered by Covid before our first birthday, so we didn't really get a chance to realize that opportunity until now. We just confirmed Esa-Pekka Salonen to conduct that, and it will be a program that's really about a sense of reawakening and hope. Renee Fleming is doing the first indoor recital a little over a year, and she will be working with a number of collaborators, including Bill Frisell, Christian McBride, and Dan Tepfer. We’ll end with the mighty Michelle Wolf to bring some humor and some political commentary to the series just was irresistible.

Photo credit: VCG - Getty Images
Photo credit: VCG - Getty Images

Is there programming planned beyond this series?

We have already planned out what's coming after. An absolute priority to us was our Open Call program, a biennial that offers dozens of early-career artists in the five boroughs of New York investment money, and producing and curatorial investment in their work, and presents their work for free to the public. We have that program in June and July, and we are also welcoming the Frieze Art Fair, which will for the first time take place in the city of Manhattan. And there's a commission at the center of that created by the pioneering artist Precious Okoyomon.

Is there anything that you're most looking forward to getting back to as an audience member?

Yes, those art forms for which people on stage come together and then that flows out into the audience who are also coming together. I mean it in a very secular way, but that sense of communion when these musical and visual narratives come together and tell the stories of our time. At the moment we're having to do it in certain ways—and that's great, we're fine with restrictions, but what we're not fine with is nothing. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that we can do comedy and other things, but I think as we emerge out of this pandemic, being able to have a wider, balanced diet of culture is what I’m really looking forward to. I think there's this pent-up demand both from the actors and the audience that will come shining through.

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