Local artists share their gifts with the community to bring a little levity and beauty to the lockdown
When the global pandemic abruptly halted live theatrical performances, art receptions, and in-person classes, creative types had to quickly adjust and adapt in order to stay connected to their communities.Many performers, visual artists, and venues boldly ventured into the digital realm with online shows, exhibits, and educational classes. Others stayed true to more traditional methods, all in an effort to uplift others.
Here are several examples of how Seminole County artists and venues have reached out to others – and bolstered the local arts scene – during the COVID-19 crisis:
Now You See Him
Kostya Kimlat’s in-person magic gigs disappeared during the lockdown faster than you can say, “abracadabra.”
However, it wasn’t long before the Seminole County magician and motivational speaker was back in front of audiences, delighting them with sleight-of-hand card tricks, like he has done at venues around the world for 20 years. The difference is, now Kostya is performing virtually – doing magic shows via Zoom for folks watching from their laptops.
Even before social distancing and stay-at-home rules, Kostya knew he’d eventually have to make changes in how he presents his shows. But he expected that shift to come 10 to 15 years down the line, not overnight.
“I thought I would be a holograph in somebody’s living room,” Kostya says with a laugh.
Yet when a client asked Kostya to put together a virtual magic show in March, he decided it was imperative to embrace the digital realm now. To test out the online format, he did several free shows for clients and friends, which led to a bunch of gigs from attendees who turned around and gifted Kostya’s joy of magic to others.
And in the spirit of giving back to his community, he also performed gratis for the Jewish Academy of Orlando’s graduation celebration. Even when Kostya is able to resume live shows, he plans to keep digital performances in his bag of tricks.
“I do think there will be a need for virtual events in the future,” Kostya says. “But at this moment in time, people just needed that entertainment and human connection.”
A Phantastic Idea
John DiDonna and his wife, Dion Leonhard DiDonna, have been welcoming thousands of people into their Sanford home every Sunday night for months. No social-distancing rules are being broken, though, because these visits are virtual.
John is the creator of Phantasmagoria, a Victorian horror troupe known for its whimsically macabre theatrical performances. He and Dion are key players in the large troupe, performing under the stage names of Byron and Lady Cimorene.
When the pandemic forced Phantasmagoria to cancel its live performances this spring, the troupe took its show online instead of on the road. The DiDonnas – as their alter egos Byron and Cimorene – tested the virtual waters on March 22 with a free show on Facebook Live. Surrounded by candles, Byron read tales of terror and haunted poems by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, and Cimorene treated viewers to an outdoor fire dancing performance.
Each online show has generated thousands of views and hundreds of comments from longtime devotees and folks who are just discovering the unique troupe, which John founded in 2010.
“It’s been fun. We get messages from all over the world at this point,” John says. “There are people who say this has become their Sunday night tradition, and that’s just kind of incredible.”
Those performances have led to other virtual shows, including three for CyberCon, a free digital convention that raised money for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Phantasmagoria also performed a show for the Orlando Fringe, which morphed into an online event after this year’s popular festival was cancelled.
“We love the new streaming platform and reaching our fans everywhere,“ John says. “We feel like this is another way of communicating, another way of telling the stories. We’ve been inspired by it.”
For details about upcoming shows, visit Facebook.com/PhantasmagoriaOrlando.
A Virtual Open House
Although the Casselberry Art House was closed for a few months, that didn’t prevent the venue from highlighting an abundance of artistic talent. Instead of hosting physical shows, the Art House seamlessly transitioned to virtual exhibits – to the delight of art lovers.
“The arts in Casselberry are still on the move,” says Jason Costa, the City’s arts and marketing coordinator. “The response to the virtual art exhibits has been great, and artists are tickled to have a venue to show their work.”
The digital shows began with Color and Contrast, an exhibit of beautiful artwork by members of the Women’s Art Group. Appropriately enough, that show was uploaded to the City’s website (Casselberry.org) in March, which is Women’s History Month.
Next came the Recycled Art Exhibit, which was to have been a major component of Casselberry’s EarthFest celebration in April. After the festival was cancelled, the art show went digital, drawing about 6,000 views by Memorial Day weekend. More than 40 artists submitted about 70 pieces of art for the show, which was judged by the Rotary Club of Casselberry. The Club awarded cash prizes to the top adult winners, and the Art House gifted the youth winners with a free week of virtual summer art classes.
In May, the Seniors, Students, and Instructors Exhibit was showcased, featuring nearly 90 pieces of art from about 50 artists who have taken classes, exhibited, or taught at the Art House. And in June, members of the Pastel Society of Central Florida – which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – were featured in an exhibit titled Red. Blue. Pastel? Yes!
“In the end, the mission of the Art House is to serve the community through the arts,” Jason says. “Art is meant to be seen. Virtual shows present a way to continue exhibiting the area’s finest artists while also making sure everyone stays safe.”
To view the exhibits, visit Casselberry.org/gallery.aspx.
A local art group and a restaurant owner in Casselberry teamed up in an old-school way to send a reassuring message to the community: We’re All In This Together.
Vinny Essa, owner of Vinzo’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria, asked the P.O.W. Artists group to paint that phrase – which has become a unifying slogan in recent months – on his restaurant windows. And in addition to the words, the artists painted an image of the Earth surrounded by a big red heart.
Kenneth Harris, the leader of P.O.W. Artists, says he and the rest of the group were thrilled when Vinny pitched the project, because it mirrors their main objective. The group’s mission is “to use the language of art to heal our families, friends, communities, and ourselves.”
“It was like a message from heaven,” says Kenneth, who owns a custom framing shop and gallery in Casselberry. “Everybody was over the moon about it.”
Joyce “Joy” Hayes, a mural artist and former member of the group, led the project. Also wielding paintbrushes were Kenneth and current members Sharon Hunt, Vicki Nelson, Carissa Imel, and Delores Haberkorn. Friends of the art group were invited to add their creative touches, too, which included more hearts and the words “hope, love, and faith.”
“I am very thankful to the P.O.W. Artists for doing this community project,” Vinny says. “The customers really love it and appreciate the gesture.”
Shall We Dance?
Tammy Weber de Millar has finally given her dance students something they have long been clamoring for – virtual classes.
On March 13, Tammy temporarily closed her Flamenco del Sol dance studio in Oviedo to comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the following week, she was teaching flamenco’s rhythmic dance moves online rather than in person.
“People had been asking me to add virtual classes for a couple of years, and I had just never gotten around to it,” says Tammy, director of the Flamenco del Sol Dance Company.
The virtual dance community she has created is thriving, with some students improving their skill set faster in the online setting than they did in the studio environment. And by streaming the classes, she gained about 15 new pupils, including a few from other countries.
“The biggest surprise were the international students – I just didn’t even see that coming,” says Tammy, who will continue offering the option of virtual classes even after her studio has fully reopened.
Flamenco del Sol has embraced the digital frontier in other ways, too. Several company members did a free show for VisionTV’s Live! From Home, a video series showcasing Central Florida artists and musicians. And, Tammy gave free online flamenco lessons as part of a fundraising effort for the Orlando Ballet, where she teaches part-time.
Her company has also been rehearsing virtually for encore performances of its production of Romeo y Julieta, which debuted in February at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. The show was to have been presented at two venues in June, but those public performances have shifted to 2021 – which gives the company plenty of time to fine-tune the show.
“It’s going to kick butt next year,” Tammy says. “To think that we will be able to do this show again someday is something to look forward to and embrace.”
For details about Flamenco del Sol classes and shows, visit Facebook.com/FloridaFlamencoDelSol/.
Want More Information?