The novel coronavirus is spreading throughout the United States, and so far the official response from our government has been underwhelming and infuriating when it hasn’t been outright murderous. That’s no surprise—the wealthy have been doing all they can to dismantle governmental institutions, the social safety net, and the very idea of public goods for decades, long before we handed the reins to Donald Trump. As a nation, we simply haven’t invested in the kinds of strong, resilient public institutions we’d need to effectively manage a pandemic. But there’s no sense finger-pointing or looking to the past, and besides, the news isn’t all bad. There’s one area where America’s institutional power is still at pre-Reagan levels: putting asses in chairs and keeping them there. That may not be quite as useful as a functional health care system would be right about now, but it’s also not nothing, given that staying home and sitting on the sofa may be the most effective public health measure any of us can take. So as our government flails around, cultural institutions from PBS to the Dropkick Murphys are stepping up and doing what they can to mitigate the boredom of social distancing, by offering free entertainment to Americans stuck at home. Here are some of the ways the nation’s cultural institutions are responding to the novel coronavirus.
The Metropolitan Opera
New York City’s Metropolitan Opera has canceled upcoming performances, but it’s tapping its strategic opera reserves to keep the nation’s opera levels high. Since 2006, the company has been transmitting live performances to movie theaters via satellite as part of a series called The Met: Live in HD; now the Met will be streaming those performances for free, one per day, for the duration of the closure. The company has announced the schedule for its first week of free opera:
• Monday: Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna (2010).
• Tuesday: Puccini’s La Bohème, conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas, (2008).
• Wednesday: Verdi’s Il Trovatore, conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (2015).
• Thursday: Verdi’s La Traviata, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey (2018).
• Friday: Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez (2008).
• Saturday: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczała, and Mariusz Kwiecien (2009).
• Sunday: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, conducted by Valery Gergiev, starring Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (2007).
Each opera will be available on the Met’s website at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and will remain available to stream until 3:30 p.m. Eastern the next day. They’ll also be available through the Met’s Opera on Demand apps.
PBS announced Sunday that it would be streaming Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary miniseries Baseball for free. In a video message, Burns explained why he thought Baseball in particular was well-suited for this moment, above and beyond the fact that sports are canceled and America’s dads are going stir-crazy:
The Walt Disney Company
Disney hasn’t announced any free entertainment, but it has released Frozen 2 to its streaming network Disney+ three months earlier than planned. Like the brooms from Fantasia, this surprise home video release will initially seem like a marvelous gift to overwhelmed parents stuck in the house with their children, but will gradually transform into a horrible curse to overwhelmed parents stuck in the house with their children, depending on how quickly those children learn to sing “Into the Unknown.” For children of all ages, Disney has moved up the home video release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; it was scheduled for Tuesday, but the film is now available to purchase on digital platforms.
Perhaps more than any other musical genre, electronic dance music is designed to be listened to with lots of other people, packed into a very tight space, breathing on each other. Those last two criteria are not viable right now, but if you’d like to collectively listen to some EDM, that’s happening on Sunday afternoon: Christine McCharen-Tran, the founder of electronic music collective Discwoman, has announced a livestream with a lineup of DJs providing “daytime party music” from an empty room:
McCharen-Tran is providing Venmo links for the DJs, so EDM fans can help mitigate the financial damage as clubs shutter. You can tune in at harrisonplace.nyc.
As the nation’s schools shut down, one question is on the lips of every child in America: Where will we get our homework? In reply, children’s book publisher Scholastic has launched Learn at Home, a website offering daily enrichment projects for kids stuck at home, sorted by grade level. The projects are cleverly designed attention traps: An article about the Loch Ness monster lures kids in with the promise of monsters before tricking them into learning about DNA and the scientific method; an article about Star Wars filming locations covers film production and geography before pivoting into a discussion of latitude and longitude. Some of the lessons for younger kids use Scholastic’s BookFlix service, but Scholastic has created a generic login and password (username: Learning20, password: Clifford) to unlock access.
The Dropkick Murphys
The novel coronavirus couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for Massachusetts’ thriving Celtic punk industry; its entire year is structured around St. Patrick’s Day, when the country’s demand for Celtic punk hits its annual peak. But the Dropkick Murphys are stepping up to ensure that this year’s St. Patrick’s Day is just as raucous as ever. On Tuesday, they will be streaming an entire concert, live from Boston.
America’s High School Theater Departments
High schools are canceling their spring musicals, which means an entire generation of up-and-coming actors are missing out on a crucial opportunity to get theatrical experience—and an entire generation of up-and-coming non-actors are missing out on the high point of their entire theatrical careers. Tony-winning actress Laura Benanti remembered how important high school productions were to her, so she posted a video message on Twitter inviting high school students to post videos of the performances they would no longer be giving. “If you would like to sing a song that you are not going to get to sing now, and you would like to tag me, I want to see you. I want to hear it,” Benanti said.
America’s theater kids have never needed much prompting to put on a show, and they responded overwhelmingly. Benanti’s Twitter feed is now an anthology of the nation’s talented kids performing musical theater, ranging in production value from kids singing alone in a room to rehearsal footage of lavish production numbers from canceled shows. The best response, however, came from a crew member showing off the performance he’d been practicing all year:
Benanti has been encouraging users to tag their performances with the #SunshineSongs hashtag on Twitter.
We’ll update this page with more details as our nation’s cultural institutions continue to smoothly roll out their rational, well-coordinated response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.