After over a full year of staying indoors, watching virtual events and trying to convince ourselves that it was even remotely close to the real deal, Bryant Park is welcoming picnic goers to enjoy an entire summer full of over 20 musicians and arts organizations through June, July, and September. The Grateful Web sat down with Dan Fishman, Bryant Park’s lead programmer, to talk about what summer in the park will look like after a long and grueling hiatus from live events… and having fun.
GW: How will Bryant Park Picnic Performances influence the music scene in New York City post-covid?
Dan: I don’t know how it will influence the city! I hope what it does is says… “we’re back!” Gives people a little bit of hope in that we can do events safely, and return the arts to New York City in a way that’s really needed. We’ve been missing live performances for too long now. It’s great for Bryant Park to provide a platform for these organizations who otherwise, for the most part, haven’t been able to open. To book artists who need gigs and a chance to perform and show what they do, and the audiences are really excited. We released tickets for the New York Philharmonic shows on Wednesday and yesterday, and they sold out within a couple of hours, and that’s for a number of tickets. I really think it’s needed, there are going to be a lot of arts I think outdoors this summer which is great, but I hope it’s another example of New Yorkers getting creative and bringing back the arts in a way that’s needed.
GW: How did you choose your lineup for the summer? I know you will host Pride in the Park and have the New York Chinese Cultural Center on the lineup following a rise of violence against Asian Americans. Was there a specific political and/or social reason you chose the artists you did?
Dan: Broadly, we were reaching out to as wide of a range that we could of different performers and different arts organizations throughout the city. We actually have a long relationship with the New York Chinese Cultural Center, they’ve been working with us for Lunar Year events in Bryant Park for years, this was a very timely thing to do for many reasons. To give them a bigger platform than they’ve had with us in the park… it seemed like the right way to go, and they’re very excited about it. And then New York City Opera, who’s doing Pride in the Park, they’ve been doing this as an annual event with us for the last… at least 3 or 4 years. It’s a big part of what the New York City Opera does, that’s a lot of what they do is try to bring opera to new audiences, to bring a different slant to how opera is presented in NYC, and we want to be a place for that, where audiences get something a bit different, where you can celebrate community, and where we are really representing all of New York.
GW: Are you nervous about Covid safety? What precautions are you taking to facilitate such large event(s)?
Dan: Sure, we are certainly cautious, I wouldn’t say nervous. I think we have a good plan in place and feel confident that these events will be safe. One thing I will say is that Bryant Park was able to open our Winter Village, our ice-skating rink and holiday market during the winter, even during covid, so we have a lot of experience managing large events and infrastructure during this pandemic. So that’s one thing that makes me more upbeat about it all. For our events, Picnic performances specifically, we are going to require either proof of vaccination or proof of a recent covid test, and between that and being outdoors and many other safety precautions and staff to appropriately message and communicate with the public, I really do think that these will be safe events and can be a model for others who are looking to return safely.
GW: Was it a difficult task planning such a complex and expensive event during Covid?
Dan: Well, it’s a very committed challenge during covid, as you might imagine. Certainly, the most challenging year for me personally in terms of trying to figure out how to make this all work. I think it’s the right thing to be doing, and thankfully we have some amazing partners in terms of arts organizations who are just making this happen! and artists who are just going with the flow and really trying to figure out the best way to make this work. So, it’s a good team we’ve put together, both on the Bryant Park side and then some great supporters, Bank of America is a partner of ours, they are actually helping us livestream all of the events, free, so even if you can’t make it to the park you can see it all on a livestream, so there’s a lot of good people involved and a lot of work. But between that and reaching out to a diverse group of partners and giving them some autonomy to use Bryant Park as a platform, I really think it came out to be a really nice season.
GW: How can viewers access the livestream?
Dan: It’s totally free, anyone can join, if you go to Bryantpark.org/picnics or if you go to Bryant Park’s Facebook, Instagram, or any of our social media sites you’ll find ways to reach the livestream and it will be shared on some of our artist partners’ sites as well. So again, we are just trying to get the work out there. Artists want to have their work seen, at least this summer we are going to have limited audience size for safety reasons, so it’s just another tool to get the work out there that needs to get out there and we are really grateful for Bank of America for making that possible.
GW: Do you have any advice for audience members? Should they bring their own picnic blanket?
Dan: I will say, one of the things that I pride myself on and one of the things that the team here at Bryant Park really pays attention to is trying to make the most comfortable and inviting experience as possible for someone who attends an event, and this year is just more challenging with covid and all these safety protocols, so typically I would just say come and have a great time, but this year I think it’s really important to go to our website and read through the protocols, there are a lot of different ways you can come; as a vaccinated audience member with a ticket, so you have to reserve a free ticket to be able to come. They are free and you can follow us on social media and Bryant Park to hear when those will be released, but you do need a ticket this year, which is new. Bryant Park will have seats; in the tested section they’ll be placed distant, to make sure that’s a safe experience. In the vaccinated section, and this may change, there will be seats available if you want a seat, and then you can also bring picnic blankets and self-distance. There’s a lot of information about how to come and what proof of vaccination and testing looks like, I would just recommend to folks please go to Bryantpark.org and read the protocols and be ready to have fun! At the end of the day it’s going to be a fun event. We are going to make sure it’s an inviting experience, and hopefully get back to normal!
GW: Will there be dancing????????????????
Dan: We’ll see what audiences are comfortable with! Within the vaccine required section, which there is just a separate vaccine section and a separate tested section, there is some flexibility to not be exactly 6 feet apart, and yeah I think that people will have the opportunity to dance and interact and clap and cheer and all of the things that you want to do at an event. It’s a whole new world of what that interaction will look like, so we’ll see!
GW: Anything else you’d like audience members to know?
Dan: Check out our website to see the schedule, there are some amazing arts organizations we are working with, we are starting with the New York Philharmonic, we are ending with Town Hall which is celebrating their 100th anniversary of being a venue. In between there are 25 exciting events with some really well-known artists and a range of different organizations from the Carnegie Halls of the world to smaller venues like National Sawdust and Greenwich house music school. Hopefully, it’s a snapshot of New York!
Here is a link to the schedule, ticketing info, and details about Bryant Park’s livestream! Pack up your picnic baskets everyone!
Photos of Fadi Khier, Limon Dance Company, and the Chinese Cultural Center performing at Bryant Park Picnic Performances in 2019 taken by Rinesty Rusli and James Molenda